19 January 2008
Homily - Transfiguration of Our Lord (Observed)
Okay, so I'm a bit behind schedule for posting this homily. Due to the truncated Epiphany season this year, we celebrated the Transfiguration of Our Lord at our Wednesday evening Divine Service on 16 January. Here's the homily:
Delivered and Transfigured Matthew 17:1-9
Peter thought he had a great plan. “I will make three tents here, [Lord,] one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He thought it was only natural for the glory of this magnificent event to continue. He thought it would be great if the Lord could remain transfigured before them. He certainly believed that this is where he and his buddies should be. Forget all that stuff the Lord had mentioned earlier—that nonsense about going up to Jerusalem, about suffering many things, about being killed! Here, up on the mountain, they could escape from and avoid all that messiness, all that sorrow.
But Jesus had a different plan. His plan was to carry out the mission that He undertook when He was baptized by John in the Jordan River – the very mission He undertook when He took on our human flesh and bone. You see, John also had a different idea about how Jesus ought to do things. But Jesus told him, “Thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” So now, from the glory of His Transfiguration, Jesus would continue to carry out His mission of fulfilling all righteousness. He would descend from the mountain. He would continue on His way to the Cross, to His suffering, to His death.
However, this brief moment that He shared with Peter, James, and John was necessary. He gave them a glimpse of His glory—not to terrify them, not to show off His power, and certainly not to distract their thoughts from His mission of suffering and dying. After all, He had told them time and time again that He must do that. No, our Lord showed them His glory as a sign and foreshadowing of the victory that awaited Him on the other side of the Cross and Tomb. He gave them a foretaste of the glory of His resurrection. And He gave it to comfort and strengthen them on the dark path that would soon lead them through His suffering and death.
Our Lord did not do all this to show off His power. He did not do this to inspire His followers to do something for Him. No, He did it because He knew their frail condition. He knew the weakness of their flesh. He knew the afflictions they would go through. He knew the sufferings they would endure. He wanted to assure them that He had come to deliver them and rescue them.
Our Lord gave the same message in His vision to Moses about 14 centuries earlier. Our Lord appeared to Moses on the mountain of God, in a bush that was transfigured yet not consumed in a flame of fire. As He told Moses, “I have seen the afflictions of My people. I know their sufferings. I have heard their cries for help. And I have come to deliver them, to save them, and to bring them to a land of rest and refreshment.” And that’s exactly what the Lord did. He led His people out of their bondage in Egypt, because they could not save themselves. He brought them through the waters of the Red Sea. He showed them the way to the land of their promised rest.
You know the story. After their miraculous deliverance, the people grumbled and complained in the wilderness. After being saved from their terrible condition, they rebelled against God on their way to the land of promise. They didn’t like the harsh conditions of the wilderness. They didn’t like all the trials and afflictions that confronted them there. They had a different notion about how life should work. They longed for the comfort and security of Egypt. At least there they could escape and avoid all the messiness and sorrow of that wilderness. But our Lord remained faithful to His promise. He brought His people to the land that He promised.
Now come back to our Gospel reading. Again our Lord was working to deliver His people—in fact, all people—from a greater bondage and to bring them to a greater Promised Land. He did so because of His love and mercy. You see, all human beings are under bondage to sin and can do nothing to save themselves. But our Lord knew their sufferings—not simply because He saw them, but because He Himself went through them. Not only did our Lord clothe Himself in our humanity, but He also carried and absorbed the sin that held us in bondage. And that is why He continued His path to Jerusalem. That is why He came down from the mountain and proceeded to His suffering and death on the Cross.
Yes, our Lord’s path on earth was a path to the Cross, but it was also a path to the glory of His resurrection. So the light of the coming resurrection breaks through on the Mount of Transfiguration. It’s just a little sneak-peek of a light, but it is what lies ahead for Jesus. And that light comforts and strengthens His disciples and us. But, dear friends, we have something more sure. We have the prophetic word and the testimony of the witnesses. They bear witness to His resurrection from the dead. They announce our Lord’s saving work on a cross to comfort and strengthen us. And we sure need that as we continue on the path of this world’s wilderness, to the Promised Land of heaven.
But all too often we are too much like the Israelites, aren’t we? We often complain and grumble about the harsh conditions of this life, about the people who just won’t do things our way, about all of the messiness and sorrow that keeps crashing into us. All too frequently we rebel against God under the trials and afflictions we have to endure. And all too often we are like Peter. We think we have a better plan, a better notion of how things should work in our lives. We long for the comfort of our Egypts, even if they are the places of slavery to our sins. We crave the security of our mountains perched above all the messiness and sorrows of this world.
But our Lord knows us. He knows our situation. He sees our afflictions. He understands our sufferings. And still He comes to save and deliver us. Not by showing off His power or terrifying us with His majesty, but by giving us a glimpse, a sneak-peek, of His glory and by going to the cross for us.
And yet He does show us His glory, even now. He shows us His glory, because heaven and earth are full of His glory. They are full of His glory especially where He puts His crucified, risen, glorified Body and Blood given and shed for us. And our eyes see His salvation even as our tongues taste the bread that’s His Body and the wine that’s His Blood. It’s the Light to lighten the Gentiles. It’s the Glory of His people Israel. It’s the glory of His very own transfigured, crucified, resurrected and living Body. That Glory made flesh and blood comforts and strengthens us here and now. It preserves us until He brings us to the Promised Land of heaven. And just you wait: He will transfigure and transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body. Yes, our transfigured Lord makes us co-heirs with Him in His glory. And He will bring us to the fullness of our inheritance with Him in heaven. Amen.