Sunday, February 14, 2010
Sermon for the Transfiguration of Our Lord (February 14, 2010)
“A Glimpse of Glory” (Luke 9:28-36)
Western-Washingtonians know all about clouds. You see a lot of them here. According to the National Climatic Data Center, Seattle has an annual average of 201 days where the sky is completely cloudy and 93 days where it is partly cloudy. Do the math. That’s 294 days of clouds. 294 days where the sun is completely hidden or partially obscured. I could have sworn it was more than that. Sometimes it sure feels like it, especially during the dark, dreary days of winter. There may be a day where you get to see that occasional “blue hole” … a patch of sky peeking through above you. But the clouds soon rearrange themselves, erasing the blue and replacing it with a variation of a shade of gray.
Once in a while, we do have a winter’s day where there’s hardly a cloud in the sky. The sun shines brightly. The temperature may be in the 30’s or 40’s. But you can still stand outside and look up and feel the warmth of the sun on your face. On those days, you get a glimpse of what summer has in store for you.
A Glimpse of Glory
The inner circle of Jesus’ disciples got a glimpse of what was in store for them and all Christians. They got a glimpse of glory. Jesus invited Peter, James, and John to join him up on a mountaintop to pray. While he was praying, something happened. Luke writes, “The appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.” Matthew says, “his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as light.” (Matt. 17:2) In describing this event, Matthew and Mark use the word from which we get the name of this day on our liturgical calendar. They both write that Jesus was “transfigured.” Although he was fully human, something different was happening to his human body. Jesus was also fully God, and now his own divine glory was shining through his human body.
The disciples also received a glimpse of the glory of heaven when they saw two saints from the Old Testament appear with Jesus. Moses and Elijah appeared and spoke with Jesus. Luke tells us that they were talking about his “departure.” In the Greek the word is “exodus.” Moses knew a little bit about another “exodus.” He led the Israelites in their departure from slavery in Egypt into freedom as God’s own special people, chosen in order to bring about the Savior. Jesus’ departure was all about leading people enslaved to sin into the freedom of forgiveness and new life through faith in his work as that promised Savior who came from the people of Israel.
A Cloudy Forecast
Peter got so excited about that glimpse of glory that he wanted to set up camp and worship there. “Master, it is good that we are here,” Peter said. “Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” But that was not in God’s plan. Peter in his excitement didn’t really know what he was talking about. This glimpse of glory was not meant to last.
As Peter was speaking, a cloud came and overshadowed them. Being on such a high mountain, you can imagine that it may have been like a thick fog that settles in on a mountain side or that rolls up over the ridge. In fact, the Evangelist tells us that Peter, James, and John were afraid as they “entered” the cloud. It must have completely enveloped the whole party there on the peak. The suddenness of it brought fear to their hearts.
I remember one particular trip we took over Stevens Pass. We were returning from a trip east of the mountains. It was raining as we ascended and passed through Leavenworth. Even then, I was getting nervous. I had a feeling as we approached the crest that we may be facing fog on the other side. Sure enough, we did. Now, I think that driving west on Highway 2 is treacherous enough. That stretch of road just this side of the ski area makes me sick to my stomach. It seems as if you are going to drive right off into the abyss. Add a pea soup-like fog into the mix … well, that’s enough to give a guy a heart attack. My heart was racing, my hands clung tightly to the wheel, my palms dripped with sweat, and my eyes strained to keep an eye on the only thing I could see … a pale strip of white just in front of and to the right of our vehicle, my only hope of staying on the road.
You and I can be fearful when things are “cloudy” for us. We are often unable to see what’s up ahead and around the bend. We make all kinds of plans and mark things on our calendars. But none of us really knows what’s in store for us. There may be some serious obstacles in the road that might take us off track. Things can get “cloudy” for us when we face the darkness of temptation and the shadows of sin. Hanging over us – obscuring our joy and peace as God’s baptized, forgiven children – are guilt and shame and the fear of God’s condemnation and eternal punishment. In those times – when you are unable to see what’s up ahead in your life … when temptation and sin put up roadblocks to your relationship with God … when death threatens you with a head-on collision – the only way you can stay on track is to keep your eyes on Jesus and his cross.
Jesus had mentioned a “cloudy forecast” just before his Transfiguration. He told the disciples about his own suffering and death: “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 rise again.” (Luke 9:22) Jesus hadn’t mentioned a cross for himself yet. But he did for his followers. He also spoke to them about the necessity of suffering and self-denial by his followers: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24) Our Lord never promised us that being one of his followers would be easy. But he did promise that he would go ahead of us, having stood up to temptation and sin, having reconciled us to the Father, and having beaten death down under his risen feet.
A Solitary Savior
Out of the cloud came a voice. The voice of God the Father echoed what was spoken at Christ’s Baptism: “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him.” At that point, Luke writes, “Jesus was found alone.” The two great prophets of the Old Testament disappeared. Only Jesus was left standing there.
Moses had once promised that God would send another prophet like himself. In Deuteronomy 18:15, he told the Israelites, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from among your brothers – it is to him you will listen.” Jesus was that prophet who spoke God’s Word … but more than a prophet, of course. Jesus is the very Son of God.
Moses and Elijah fade into the background. Christ is left standing alone. There is no longer any need to wait for the voice of a prophet. In Christ, we have the very voice of God himself speaking to us. Listen to him. Listen to Christ’s voice. Whereas the voice of the Law accuses and condemns, in Christ, the voice of the Gospel forgives and gives hope and peace. Jesus fulfilled the Law in our place and suffered and died with our sins laid to his account. His words and life are the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, of whom Moses and Elijah represent.
Jesus is our only Savior who went to the cross alone for us. Alone, he was forsaken by the Father. Alone, Jesus faced suffering and self-denial for us. Jesus suffered the punishment of God’s wrath over sin and the pains of hell. Jesus lovingly denied himself for us. He set aside his rights as God and humbly allowed himself to be crucified in the place of us sinners.
Before we go down the mountain with Jesus and the disciples, I want to point you to one more mountaintop encounter. God took Moses up to a high mountain and let him view the Promised Land with his own eyes. But Moses was not allowed to lead the people into the Promised Land. That job was handed over to Joshua.
Interestingly enough, “Joshua” is another way of saying the name Jesus … Joshua or Yeshua. Jesus is the Joshua who leads us into the Promised Land of heaven and eternal life. He has gone before us in his resurrection and ascension. His Transfiguration gives us a glimpse of the glory that awaits all the baptized at our own resurrection and ascension. In the meantime, we follow Jesus by faith and receive his gifts of forgiveness, life everlasting, his body and blood in his Holy Supper, and a place reserved for us in that bright, shining city that St. John describes in Revelation 21: “…the city has no need of the sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” (Rev. 21:24)
Until that day, cloudy days are ahead. The “cloudy” days of Lent are ahead of us, a special time of penitence and reflection on the suffering of Jesus on our behalf. But Lent is not a time to morbidly obsess over sin and death. Behind the clouds with their shadows lies the sunshine with its light. Behind the clouds of Lent lies the promise of resurrection. Peer through the foggy road ahead of you, and stay on track by keeping the cross as your guide right in front of you. Just around the bend is an empty tomb.