Transfiguration of Our Lord

by The Rev. David Juhl

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

Transfiguration PaintingJust when Peter thought it was good to be on the mount of Transfiguration with Jesus, Moses, Elijah, James, and John, he heard a voice coming out of the cloud that surrounded them: this is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him! The next thing Peter knew, he looked up and saw no one but Jesus only. Jesus then commanded Peter, James, and John to tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.

Why hide such a marvelous sight? Why not tell the whole world before Jesus suffers and dies an innocent death? There's the rub. Jesus must suffer the worst punishment possible, even death, as a suitable sacrifice for our sin. If Peter, James, and John were to tell everyone what they saw immediately, there's a chance Jesus may never make it to Golgotha with a crown of thorns on His head and a cross on His back.

It's ironic that the sight of Jesus dying on a cross is one we would rather not see, even though His death brings us forgiveness, life, and salvation. We, like Peter, would rather focus on the happier events of our Lord's life. It's good to be on the mount of Transfiguration. It's good to be in Bethlehem with the wise men. It's good to be in Jerusalem seeing the "tweener" Jesus teach the doctors of God's Law. It's good to be at Cana. It's good to be in Capernaum for the healing of the leper and the centurion's servant. It's bad to be at Golgotha when the Romans crucify Jesus on behalf of the Jews.

It's good to focus on all the joy Jesus brings us. Yet that joy comes wrapped in a horrible event: Christ's death. Sure, we know the ending is a happy one with the resurrection. But pondering the Passion of Jesus is not what we would call an enjoyable experience. So we hurry through Lent to get to Easter and all those resurrection hymns. It's better to sing "I Know that My Redeemer Lives" than "A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth". White lilies brighten the church better than violet's penitential mood. Who cares about the Suffering Servant? Let's get to the happy ending and hang around as long as possible!

Perhaps that's what Peter, James, and John might be thinking as they descend the mountain with Jesus. Why wait to tell about Jesus appearing with Moses and Elijah in all His glory. Why wait to divulge the content of their conversation; most certainly about the events that were about to take place in Jerusalem. Let's make sure everyone knows that Jesus is the awesome God long foretold by prophets and patriarchs! Let's spread the Word that Jesus is the Second Adam from God the Father Himself, ready to undo Adam's horrible deed wrought by the crafty serpent!

Peter, James, and John do what we might think is unthinkable. They keep their mouths shut. They tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead. It's hard enough for us to keep a secret several days before Christmas, let alone three disciples keeping the Transfiguration a secret for a longer period of time. When Jesus rises from the dead, these men and the other apostles cannot shut up anymore. They can't stop talking about Jesus and what He did for the sins of the world. They cannot stop proclaiming His resurrection story. They cannot stop telling everyone what they saw and heard. What they once saw with their eyes, they now tell with their lips. The Word of the apostles creates and sustains faith in the Savior who shows His glory not merely in His transfiguration, but in His dying woes and His resurrection joy.

The Epiphany season draws to a close today. But there are two more big epiphanies yet to come. One happens on a dark Friday afternoon when Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, cries out it is finished and gives up His spirit. The other happens in the predawn hours that next Sunday when some women and later some apostles go to the tomb and find it empty, just as Jesus told them. All the wonders we have heard these last four weeks build to these long awaited climactic moments. The transfigured Jesus will shine brighter in glorious humility, only to outdo Himself with by shining brighter than a refiner's fire with an empty tomb, while being mistaken by Mary for a gardener.

Transfiguration IconIf you think the preceding glimpses of Christ's glory were something, then the best is yet to come. What the unbelieving world describes as a cunningly devised fable we will see to be the prophetic word confirmed, which [we] do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place. Lent cannot extinguish the light of the world. Holy Week cannot extinguish the light of the world. These two solemn seasons prepare us to lament our sins, repent, and once again believe in the Good News that Jesus conquers the old evil foe once again, once and for all.

As we hear those familiar Lenten themes weave in and out of the Divine Service and Wednesday Vespers, we will be fed as always with Word and Sacrament. The next three weekends will prepare us for Holy Lent by fixing our eyes on how God deals with us: grace alone, Word alone and ultimately Christ alone. Ashes will smear our forehead as we make our penitential cry on Ash Wednesday. Wednesday Vespers will focus on the Penitential Psalms, encouraging us to pray these psalms while also teaching us more about Individual Confession and Absolution. If you've never received Individual Absolution, Lent is the perfect time to start!

The next thing we know it will be Holy Week. Jesus will institute His Supper on Maundy Thursday. The altar will be stripped bare for Good Friday. Muted joy reigns on Good Friday as the sacrifice for sin is complete. A dark church building comes alive with light during the Easter Vigil as the first proclamation of the Resurrection is made. Finally comes Easter Day as lilies represent the trumpet of the resurrection Gospel.

All this comes after the fantastic sight we see with Peter, James, and John today in the Transfiguration. Thanks be to God that Peter, James, and John told no one of this wonderful sight until the Son of Man rose from the dead. Their silence made it possible for Jesus to die for our sins and rise from the dead. God grant that we may see Jesus only as the humble and glorious Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

Rev. David Juhl is Pastor of Our Savior Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Momence, IL. 

Created: February 1st, 2009