Transfiguration of Our Lord
“The Mysteries of the Faith Revealed”
Reverend Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
St. Matthew 17.1-9
06 February 2022
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
The Feast of the Transfiguration was not always celebrated in Lutheranism as it is today. It was celebrated on August 6, a fixed date. It was finally transferred to a Sunday when the whole congregation would be assembled because it was considered to be worthy of more attention. It found a home on the last Sunday after the Epiphany except when there was only one Sunday after the Epiphany. This seems to be a peculiarity of Lutherans. In The Lutheran Hymnal, the hymnal with which I grew up there was but one Transfiguration hymn. Now in LSB there are five. We’ll sing three of those this morning.
The Collect of the Day is perhaps one of the best in the whole lectionary at summarizing the theme of the day. In the Transfiguration of our Lord are contained the deepest mysteries the Christian faith, cross and resurrection.
The Gospel reading begins, “After six days, Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.” Six days after what? As always, context is important.
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. [Matthew 16.21]
Peter had strenuously objected, incurring Jesus’ rebuke that Peter was on the side of Satan and not on the side of God. Matthew continues:
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. [Matt. 16.24]
The cross comes before the glory. No cross, no glory. There is death before resurrection. No resurrection, no Ascension, no glory.
Jesus spoke clearly about suffering, death, and resurrection, but the disciples evidently heard only suffering and death. That was not the glorious kingdom they hoped Jesus would deliver, so Jesus took these three select disciples up on the mountain where he was transfigured before them. His earthly appearance was completely changed. He showed them his divine glory.
As always seems to be the case with Peter foolish talk spilled out of his mouth when he saw the transfigured Jesus, and Moses and Elijah talking with him. All of the Old Testament points to Christ and his death. Luke tells us the talk was about Jesus’ Exodos which he would accomplish at Jerusalem. Exodos is a euphemism for death, a departure from among the living. The King James Version translates it as decease. From it we get our word used to describe those who have died as the deceased. Here it describes Jesus’ great saving act of dying on the cross for the sin of the world. Jesus fulfills all that the Law and the Prophets predicted.
Peter wants to set up three tents, one for Moses, one for Elijah, and one for Jesus because he loves this glory. While he blathers his foolishness in making Jesus equal to Moses and Elijah, the bright cloud distracts him and the voice of the Father booms from heaven
Jesus’ death is the center of his glory. What human being would see a shameful death as the center of God’s glory? What human being could understand a God who suffers on behalf of those who hate him and break his just laws? Peter had objected to that, strenuously! Muslims use that argument to deny the divinity of Christ. But suffering and death lies at the center of the mysteries of the faith. It is the core of the faith.
Years later it was Peter who would write the very sobering words of our Epistle reading telling us that the three of them were eyewitnesses of Christ’s divine majesty. They not only saw it with their own eyes, they also heard the voice of the Father from heaven telling them exactly who Jesus is, God’s own beloved Son.
And then Peter says that we have something more sure than such spectacular visions—“the prophetic word.” He directs us to the word about Jesus, about his suffering, death, and resurrection on behalf of the sinful world. It’s like a lamp that shines in a dark place, or as the prophets themselves called it, “utter darkness.” It is like the dawn of a cloudless morning which suddenly burst forth in splendor.
These words of the prophets are not idle words, but words that come from God the Holy Spirit himself. Man did not produce them. God did, just like the words the three disciples heard on the mountain. God’s beloved Son must go to the cross in order to redeem us. There is no other way. There is the divine “must go to Jerusalem” to suffer and die. [Matt. 16.21]
Peter was blathering his foolish words when the bright cloud overshadowed them and the booming voice from the cloud spoke, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” And at that, the transfiguration ended and the three disciples are filled with fear. But the touch of Jesus interrupts their fear and he summons them to “Rise, and have no fear.”
It is to this Word that we cling, which is more sure than any vision. We cling to that word which God the Holy Spirit places into our ears every Divine Service, in the Absolution, in the reading of the Word, the sermon, and the Sacrament of the Altar. Nothing is left to chance. This Word is sure, reliable, trustworthy. Better than visions on the mountain. Listen to Jesus!
That is one of the chief mysteries of the faith, that God comes to us in plain words, not in cleverly devised myths as the pagan religions have. The world will always be filled with false prophets who secretly bring in destructive heresies. Some of these will even deny the Christ who bought them with his innocent suffering and death [2 Peter 2.1f.].
You and I are no different than the three disciples. We engage in foolish talk like Peter. We, too, are afraid of what we cannot fully comprehend. We don’t want the cross, but it is God’s way. Jesus had said that the disciple is not above his master [Matthew 10.24]. Why should our lives be different from Jesus’ life of suffering? We forget that. We don’t want to lose those things we consider most precious, “ goods, fame, child and wife,” as Luther writes. We don’t want suffering. “Take away our suffering” is the prayer we pray. Suffering is not what we want. We want to bypass it.
Let’s say you are a college student and you were really sweating the final exam and the term paper assigned, and the professor came in and said to the class: “Never mind about that final exam; I’ve cancelled it. You won’t have to take it. And that 50 page term paper I assigned—well, you can forget that, too. In fact, you don’t have to take any more classes or meet any more requirements. Just stop by the dean’s office and pick up your degree. Have a nice life!” That isn’t the way it works. There will be suffering.
How nice it would be to live on the mountaintop, completely oblivious to suffering and death, to put it all behind us. We’d like that, wouldn’t we? No suffering, no disappointments, no sorrows, no crosses to bear. We’d like to sail right past the unpleasantness of life, those bad things that happen, the events that cause us sleepless nights and restless days. But we live a life advancing to death. The lives of countless Christians before us were filled with suffering and the cross. All of these are necessary before the glory of God will be revealed in us. Glory comes, but only by way of the cross. By way of Christ’s cross we are made co-heirs of his eternal glory because we have been baptized into the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
When the vision was over the three disciples opened their eyes. “They saw no one but Jesus only.” Jesus only! And they had the word from the Father, “Listen to him.” As we bear our crosses in this life we should fix our eyes only on Jesus, as the writer of Hebrews says [Hebrews 12.1-2]. The Psalmist says that the man is blessed who sees the Lord:
He shall not be afraid of evil tidings:
His heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord. [Psalm 112.7 KJV]
That is seeing Jesus only. Fixed. Listen only to Jesus who is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit! The Mysteries of the Faith are revealed in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
It was a tradition in my years here at Immanuel that the Divine Service on Transfiguration concluded with the Farewell to Alleluia. The alleluias that characterized the Christmas and Epiphany seasons must be put away until the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord. So the Alleluia banner is taken down and rolled up until our Lord’s resurrection. The time of the cross must come and the three “gesima” Sundays and the Lenten season occupy our thoughts. Today we’ll sing this hymn as we depart according to the tune Lauda Anima but my favorite is really Picardy, accompanied by Dr. William Davis on the violin. The sweetness and passion of the violin seems the most appropriate instrument which should play this tune today.
Alleluia cannot always
Be our song while here below;
Alleluia, our transgressions
Make us for a while forgo;
For the solemn time is coming
When our tears for sin must flow.
Therefore in our hymns we pray Thee,
Grant us, blessed Trinity,
At least to keep Thine Easter
With Thy faithful saints on high;
There to Thee forever singing
Alleluia joyfully. [LSB 417]
In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.