Sunday, February 2, 2020

The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord

Matthew 17:1-9; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Exodus 34:29-35

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
A biblical vision is not a dream per se. That is, a vision is not something that you have, but it is something that is given to you, by God, for you to see and to experience. Moreover, what is given to you to see and to experience is not something new, but it is something that was there all along with you, but you could not see it, either because of God’s will, because of your own sinful weakness and unbelief, or both.
Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration of Our Lord occurs six days after Peter’s confession of Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” That was a great confession that Peter made, and Jesus praised it stating that it had been revealed to Peter by God. Jesus was, and had been, the Christ, the Son of the Living God, all along, though Peter and the disciples, and the crowds, had not been able to see or to experience that truth. Throughout this Epiphany season we have heard how Jesus began to manifest and to show forth outwardly who He was and what He had come to do in miracles and signs and teaching: Impressing the rabbis in the temple with His teaching; the events of His Holy Baptism; His first miracle, changing water into wine; the healing of Jewish leper and a Gentile centurion’s servant; and more. However, Peter was the first of Jesus’ disciples to put this all together and to see and confess that Jesus is the promised Messiah and Christ of God, even the very Son of God, and this confession came not from his own flesh and blood and reason, but this truth was revealed to Peter by God the Father. It was true all along, but Peter and the disciples could not see it or experience it, until God revealed this truth to them.
In the days following Peter’s confession, Jesus began to teach His disciples that He “must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Then Peter, who had made the great confession concerning Jesus, “took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you’.” But, just as his great confession was revealed by God, so Peter’s rebuke had a different inspiration. Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Then Jesus began to teach of the suffering His disciples must face as well saying, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
This is what transpired in the six days between Peter’s great confession and Jesus’ Transfiguration. Blessed by God to see and to confess Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God, Peter, nonetheless, refused to believe and accept that Jesus’ mission was to suffer and die for the sins of men, and be raised from death. Not only did Peter refuse to believe and accept this truth, but he actively sought to prevent Jesus from carrying it through. Understanding this helps us understand what Peter had in mind on the Mount of Transfiguration. Peter was understandably impressed by the glory he was blessed to see as Jesus was transfigured on the mountaintop. We even have a name for such a feeling of elation and joy – A mountaintop experience. And, like ourselves when we experience such elation and joy, Peter wanted to preserve it. “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” The word tent doesn’t capture the fullness of the what Peter had in mind. The word he used was the very same word that was used for the Tabernacle in the Old Testament. Peter wanted to stay up there on the mountaintop in glory. He wanted to enshrine that glorious moment and preserve it forever, just as he had embraced the glorious confession that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, but refused to believe and accept that Jesus had come to suffer and die for the sins of Adam and his children.
Once again Peter was rebuked, this time by the LORD Himself speaking from the cloud, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” The LORD effectively cut Peter off in the middle of his misguided glory-loving elation, effectively saying, “Shut up! Listen to Jesus!” At the voice of God, Peter, James, and John all fell down as though dead, the proper and inevitable response of sinners in the presence of the glory of the LORD. Then, Jesus touched them and said to them, “Rise, and have no fear.” It was an absolution. Jesus blessed them and forgave them. “And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.”
Remember, at the beginning of this homily I stated that a biblical vision is not the same as dreams we have when sleeping, but a vision is a special sight that we are given by grace to see something that has been there all along but hidden, under a veil, or that we were simply unable to see because of God’s will or our own sinful weakness and unbelief, or both. I truly believe that Moses and Elijah were still there, indeed angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven, for wherever Jesus is, there is paradise, there is heaven, but once again, the disciples were unable to see it, but they saw only Jesus. The blessing of Jesus’ transfiguration is that we are invited to see with the eyes of faith the glory of God in the person of Jesus, in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily. The disciples were permitted this glimpse of Jesus’ glory that their faith might be strengthened and that they might persevere through the dark days and events that were soon to follow, Jesus’ arrest, mocking, scourging, crucifixion, death, and burial, in the hope of the promise, on the third day He will rise.
It is no coincidence that The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord is positioned here, at the end of Epiphanytide, just before we enter into Lent and the remembrance of our Lord’s Passion. The Church would prepare us to face the suffering, humiliation, and death of Jesus, and to take up our own cross and follow Him in His way, by reminding us, but revealing to us, that He is with us all along the way, indeed, that all of the glory of heaven – saints, angels, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – are with us even now, even in our darkest moments as well as the joyous ones, even as we face death, that we should be encouraged, our faith strengthened, that we should persevere in hope, contentment, peace, and even joy.
Throughout our pilgrimage we are tempted to doubt and despair when we face difficulty, trial, tribulation, sickness, and death. However, our Lord has promised that we are not alone, that He is with us, indeed, that He will never leave us until all is fulfilled. Surely, His Spirit is with us wherever we are and wherever we go, just as He has promised, but His glorious presence is in His Church where we all gather together as one in His Word and Gifts in worship of our God who is with us. Our God is with us just as He has promised in His Word proclaimed, in the waters of Holy Baptism, in His absolution bestowed anew, and in His body and blood received by all who believe and trust in Him for forgiveness, life, and salvation. For those blessed with Spirit-given eyes that truly see and ears that truly hear, heaven has come down to earth, Jesus is present, with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. This is the Mount of Transfiguration. This is the Gate of Heaven. It is good, Lord, to be here. Yet, as we leave this Mount, Christ accompanies us on the plain.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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