Luke 9:28-36 (The Transfiguration of Our Lord—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
February 14, 2010
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel Lesson from Luke 9:
Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.
Today we celebrate the Transfiguration of Our Lord. It is certainly a day on which we focus on the glory of Jesus Christ. But to get the whole picture of Christ’s glory we should see in the Transfiguration a foreshadowing of something less bright and shiny. We should see in what occurred with Jesus in our text a foreshadowing of what would occur with Jesus down the road.
In the big picture of Jesus, the glory of His Transfiguration, Resurrection, and Ascension needs to be seen in light of His Passion. Transfiguration Sunday always stands on the doorstep of the Season of Lent. During Lent, we especially consider Jesus’ suffering and death for our sins. We consider His Passion. But this is Transfiguration Sunday! This is the day that Jesus revealed His glory as true God on the mountaintop. Maybe we are a little reluctant to see the big picture of Jesus on a day like today. We can easily see the good in the Transfiguration event because it is filled with glory. “Now about eight days after these sayings he took with Him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.” (Luke 9:28-29) But when we speak about Jesus’ suffering and death, we might miss the good in Jesus’ Passion because it isn’t filled with Transfiguration-like glory but with suffering and death. As a result, you and I demonstrate an affinity to a theology of glory that invariably misses God and leads one to glory in oneself.
Take for example Peter, James, and John. On the mountain, as Jesus was praying, they were heavy with sleep. When they became fully awake they saw Jesus’ glory and the two men, Moses and Elijah, and who stood with Him. Luke then records, “As the men were parting from Him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said.” Peter, in his confusion, wanted to prolong the mountaintop experience. He did not understand the situation or the reason for the appearance of Moses and Elijah. Instead, Peter seemed to be demonstrating a theology of glory (finding God on his own terms) rather than allowing God to reveal Himself in a theology of the cross sort of way. This is all too natural, because we like glory over cross and suffering.
The theology of the cross is a recurring theme in our Lutheran theology. Rather than people finding God on our own terms that often involves self-glorification, the theology of the cross reveals God Himself by hiding Himself in Christ. God heals his people by suffering in Christ. God’s power is seen in weakness rather than glory. God gives life by dying. Our tendency is to think about a health-and-wealth gospel. But this theology of glory invariably bypasses God leads us to glory in ourselves. God found us through his sufferings on the cross. So that is where we look even on Transfiguration Sunday—in the theology of the cross.
So as the Bible reveals the picture of the Transfiguration, we see the glory of the Son of God even in His human nature. The same Christ who was born in the humble confines of crib and manger is God from eternity. The Father’s baptismal affirmation of His is reaffirmed at Jesus’ Transfiguration. Again, God the Father says as He did at the River Jordan, “This is my Son.”
That has been the message of the Epiphany Season. Jesus Christ is the son of God. He is God of God and Light of Light. He is the very Word of God made flesh who dwelt among us so that we might see His glory. But where do we truly see Jesus’ glory? We have to go the cross. Just days before Jesus would be arrested, suffer, and die for the sins of the world some Greeks came to the disciple Philip and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” After telling his brother Andrew, they both told Jesus, who answered them with these words, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. . . . Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then the Father spoke from heaven again, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” . . . Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” The John tells us, “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” (John 12:20-36
The glory of the Transfiguration, then, serves as a foreshadowing of the glory of Christ’s suffering and death. The events immediately before our Gospel Lesson also reveal this to us. At Caesarea Philippi Jesus asked the disciples, “Food or the crowd say that I am?” They answered, “John the Baptist. But others say Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” Then Jesus asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” Then Jesus went on to explain to the disciples what being the Christ of God really means. It’s not about glory as we think of glory. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Jesus foretells His death. Then he calls His followers to take up their cross. “If anyone would come after me, let him to deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
About 8 days after these sayings Jesus took Peter and John and James up on the mountain to pray. As Jesus was transfigured, Moses and Elijah also appeared in glory with Him. But what were they talking about? They spoke about his departure which was about to take place at Jerusalem. They spoke about the cross awaiting Jesus in Jerusalem. Jesus, Moses, and Elijah understood that there was no contradiction between this moment of glory on the Mount Transfiguration and the glory of the cross waiting on Mount Calvary.
The glory of God is found in the cross. We don’t find God and His glory. We don’t find Him on our terms or in our ways. God finds us. He finds us through His son, Jesus Christ. God finds us through a cross. He finds us covered in the blood-stained wounds of His one and only Son who gave up His life into death on that cross. Therefore, God finds us forgiven, redeemed, and saved from sin and death. God finds us as the holy brothers and sisters of Jesus who share in His heavenly calling. As God finds us in Christ we are invited to participate in God’s glory, to share it with Him. In Holy Baptism, we put on Christ. In Baptism, we are covered with Christ’s own righteousness. Baptized into Christ we share not only His glory, but also in His suffering. The crosses we bear now define the Christian life. Yes, we have the pains of being human. But we also have crosses to bear. Crosses are what we endure for the sake of the Gospel, what we endure because we belong to Christ. In these times of suffering, it is the glory and love of God in Jesus who died and rose that shine quite brightly. We share in the glory of the transfigured Christ because we share in the sufferings of the crucified Christ.
I really like how one of our post-communion prayers puts this truth. I use this prayer quite frequently when I’m visiting the sick and homebound. After receiving Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament, we then pray, “Grant that this heavenly food which we have received will strengthen our faith that we may bear all crosses, sickness, and trials with patience and trust until You grant us deliverance, peace, and health.” Because Christ gave His Body into death and shed His Blood on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, life, salvation, and the strengthening of faith, you and I are able to bear the crosses we face. We are able to endure the sicknesses and the trials that we endure in this world that is so messed up by sin. We can bear up under the suffering with patience and trust not because we have found God on our terms, but because God has found us on His terms—through Christ Jesus who suffered death on the cross, rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven, and will come again to take us to be with Him forever. Since it is Jesus who will call us to our heavenly home, you and I can be confident that we will share in God’s heavenly glory because we have shared in the glory revealed most splendidly through the cross of Jesus.
In His Transfiguration, we see a glorious Jesus. In our Baptism, we are invited to share in His glory. In the Transfiguration, we see a foreshadowing of our suffering Jesus. In our Baptism, we are invited to share in that also. So the Transfiguration serves us as a springboard into Lent. We begin our journey with Christ to the glory of the cross. It’s a time to focus on the suffering of our Lord, a time to share in His humility. It’s also time to see beyond the cross to the empty grave and an open heaven. It is also a time to rejoice that we, too, shall rise and live forever in the glory of heaven that is ours in Jesus Christ our Lord because we share in the glory of His cross. Amen