In the story of the ugly duckling, the true beauty of the swan is revealed in the end. Until the beautiful swan is recognized for whom he truly is, he is mocked and ridiculed by the ducks. He is considered unattractive and out of place. When you find a cocoon, you donot see the beauty of the butterfly. Until it emerges, its beauty and majesty are hidden within the cocoon.
In today’s Gospel, we have our Lord’s Transfiguration where Christ’s hidden glory is revealed.
Though, when properly understood, the Transfiguration of our Lord is not so much a new miracle, as the temporary halting of a 33 year miracle. The one whom the inner circle of disciples saw shining like the sun had done so since the beginning of time. He is the light of the world! At creation He said, “let there be light” and there was light. The real and astounding miracle is that His sun-like glory was veiled from His cradle to His grave – excepting for this day.
On this mountain He pulled back the veil- just a little! God in the flesh is seen beaming like the sun – light bursting forth – dispelling darkness – stabbing eyes! He is seen in the presence of Moses – who died 1500 years before on Mount Nebo. He is seen in the presence of Elijah whose fiery departure from earth had occurred 900 years prior.
Their earthly end was not their final end, however, nor will yours be. You and I and all people are going to live forever! Death is not the natural evolutionary end to some imaginary circle of life. That is a fairy tale for adults taught to our children as if it is true. Death is God’s curse, the wages of sin! After death all human beings will face God’s judgment, you and I included. Our eternal existence will either be separated from God’s grace in punishment or united with God in blessing.
The presence of these two men of old anticipates that eternal blessing! They had had their own mountain-top experiences – Moses receiving God’s law on Mount Sinai – Elijah defeating the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. They pointed to Christ, for all the Law and the Prophets testify of Jesus and God’s gifts to the world through Him.
It is key to know that immediately preceding and immediately following this event Jesus predicts His suffering and His death and His resurrection (Matt. 16:21; 17:12, 22-23). And Luke makes clear in His account of the Transfiguration, that was also the topic of conversation between Jesus and Moses and Elijah on the mountain (Luke 9:31). They weren’t talking about the lovely view or the splendor of the valleys and fields below. They weren’t even talking about how great paradise is with the Lord. They were talking specifically about Jesus’ exodus, His departure, soon to be accomplished at Jerusalem. That is, they were talking about His sacrificial death! Dear Christians – let this truth sink in! Just before His Transfiguration, Christ puts in plain words His approaching death and resurrection! During His Transfiguration the one topic of conversation between heaven and earth is His approaching sacrifice in Jerusalem. Immediately after His Transfiguration Jesus again makes clear that He was about to be delivered up to death and that He would rise again.
And yet Peter says to Jesus, “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.” Peter’s request gives Jesus equality with Moses and Elijah – offering to ambitiously build three equal tents to prolong this experience. Peter’s desired course of action would seem to blow away the other option – heading down the mountain to face impending betrayal and death.
But Moses and Elijah need no earthly shelter. Nor are they the equal of Jesus! He needs no tent because He is God’s tent among us sinful human beings. He is the meeting place – between God and us – in the flesh! He didn’t come among us to shine in glory here – He came among us to bear our sin so that we can share His glory in eternity.
Like Peter’s impulsive plan, however, we also prefer glory to suffering right now. By nature we look for God in mountaintop experiences such as – a breath taking view – a position of power – pleasing, positive feelings – exhilarating times – nature’s marvels. Some of these gifts (the beauty of nature) do bear testimony that there is a God. But none of them has God’s promise to bring Him to us – the promised means by which He is present with us! Jesus and His words do have that promise!
We are all by nature addicted to a theology of glory, going from one fix to the next, judging by what we feel and see and prefer rather than by what God says and does. Good morning, my name is Christopher and I’m an addict. It’s hasn’t been that long since my last hit of positive vibes and encouraging praise and successful feelings and I’m looking for the next hit. Our default setting is to judge things that way, by my feelings, as a theologian of glory. (Do you know what I mean?)
That’s why God the Father uses the unveiling of the glory of His Son to give it to us straight once again! “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Peter, James and John, listen to this one who is momentarily shining like the sun but mightily focused on His sacrificial death! Dear children of God, listen to Him for He has the words of eternal life!
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” God the Father is well-pleased with Him and His seemingly depressing, death-centered talk.
When the disciples heard this (the Father’s voice), they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
God’s Word still brings us to Jesus only! God’s Word, veiled in water as Christ is put upon you and you are placed into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Of course, where Christ is, there also is the Father and the Holy Spirit!) The Word made flesh veils His very body under bread and His very blood under wine and we receive Jesus only! Behold the blood of the New Covenant God has made with you given for you to drink. And where Jesus is present according to His words there also is the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation and there is also the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus only- can turn your heart from judging things according to the theology of glory to receiving gifts according to the theology of the cross. Jesus only can sustain you week by week as you go down from the mountain of His presence into the struggles of daily life in your place and station. Jesus only enables you to love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you and to turn the other cheek. Jesus only gives you certainty of hope in spite of your failings and doubts.
Consider the Apostle Peter, he cursed and swore and denied that he knew the one Transfigured in glory before him on this day. But Jesus never denied or deserted Him. Risen from the dead He spoke peace to Peter and reinstated Him as His apostle! He continued to forgive and restore Peter as He continues to forgive and restore you and me.
That’s why years later Peter could write, “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty…for we were with him on the holy mountain.” (2 Peter 1:16) And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place. Tradition tells us that Peter wrote his 2nd letter from Mamertine prison in Rome where he was later crucified. Acknowledging that his death is imminent (2 Peter 1:13-14; John 21:18-19), surrounded by the damp and dirty darkness of a dungeon, Peter wrote an epistle that is full of hope and light and the promise of Christ’s return.
Jesus had commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” And so as we move to Lent this coming week we move to the season of penitence, leaving behind our “Alleluia’s,” recalling how the Transfiguration glory both precedes and follows the crucifixion, the bearing of the cross. And so when the trials and struggles of this world plague us, we find comfort knowing that Jesus’ exaltation has occurred and our transfiguration awaits us on the other side of the cross of death. Christ has borne this cross already for us.
The transfiguration of Jesus, shining in His glory, is a sneak preview of your glory in the resurrection, where with Moses and Elijah and the whole company of heaven you will see with your eyes that glorious, shining face of the One who is your Savior. For Christ is risen to shine like the sun for eternity! You, baptized saints, have been born again into a living hope through His resurrection from the dead. You are now free to tell of Him who clothes you as children of the light – free to invite others into His marvelous light. Amen.