Listen to this sermon here.
This is my beloved Son...
Listen to Him.
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Festival of the Transfiguration of Our Lord marks the end of the Epiphany Season and so also the end of the Time of Christmas, as called in the Church Year. The reason it is placed at the end: the Transfiguration is the most dramatic Epiphany, or revealing, of our Lord Jesus. The point of the Transfiguration, and the whole point of Epiphany, actually the whole point of the Time of Christmas (beginning way back in Advent), is that Jesus is God. Our life together here is founded upon and centered in this very truth. It is no wonder than that every single one of the 101 days of Christmas Time this year, they are focused upon this One truth, teaching us who Jesus is, that He is God, / so that, (as we move on in the Church Year) every single one of the 102 days of Easter Time can teach us what our God Jesus has done for us and for our salvation.
In Advent we waited in certain and hopeful expectation of the coming Messiah, the “God with us” (as Isaiah puts it). At Christmas we see who this Immanuel is: the baby Jesus of Nazareth, born of the lowly, but Blessed Virgin Mary. And now, and throughout the Epiphany season, we've caught glimpses of this Man's divinity: The Magi (Gentiles) came from the far East to worship Him. As a boy, He taught the teachers (and us) in the temple in Jerusalem. He was Baptized / and the Spirit of God anointed Him / as the Father ordained Him the Savior. And then His great, divine teaching in His Great Sermon on the Mount: showing us what it means to have a heavenly Father, which is nothing other than being a brother to Jesus, receiving His forgiveness as He sacrifices His heart, mind, soul, His whole being for us. But the point of the Sermon on the Mount isn't just to give us information about the life of a disciple. By His teaching Jesus makes us His disciples, and He is preparing us for something. That something is most plainly seen in the Transfiguration, especially in these words of the Father: “This One is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased: Listen to Him.”
We are being prepared to do what we are destined to do as Baptized children of the heavenly Father: to listen to Jesus. Jesus is True. Jesus is life for you. He is caring, He loves you with a love incomprehensible, unknowable. The depth of His concern for your body and soul is beyond verbal expression, so He shows you instead: He takes on your flesh, He suffers many things on account of this, then He is raised up on the Altar of the cross and dies for you, all the while speaking no words of anger, no words of complaint or contempt, but only, “Father, forgive them.” And your Father has forgiven you, and continues to do so. Jesus, your Brother, has loved you in this way, and with this intensity.
So as Jesus and His closest disciples ascend up the Mountain upon which He is transfigured, this mission of Jesus is on their minds. Jesus has just told the disciples, again, that He must suffer many things and be killed, but He will then be raised up on the 3rd day. / So was this it? Was Jesus leading Peter, James, and John up into this mountain that these things might be accomplished, now? It's possible. Would Jesus be showing His great love for them and all humanity here, already? Most definitely. But not in the way those disciples would have ever imagined. Jesus warned them about many things, but not this. It was too glorious, and perhaps it might have given another opportunity for their flesh to disbelieve. Again, Jesus is caring for them. This is for their good, and Peter recognizes this right away, saying, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” They had to see this; not only for themselves, but for us also, because the Church is built upon their confession, especially that of Peter, so Peter especially must see this, and James and John are to be witnesses. What are they to witness? / A most dramatic display of who Jesus is: that Jesus is God, yet He is in skin like theirs.
St Matthew tells us, “Jesus' face shone as the sun, and His clothes came to be white as light.” And not just a reflection of light, Jesus' clothes were the source of the light. Jesus is the Light of the world. And His face: it didn't simply shine like the sun, as if He was the copy. Jesus is the One spoken of in Revelation 22, where St John records, “Then the angel showed me...the city [the new heavens and new earth]...No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” This is the very Lord God, Jesus, who appeared to those three disciples.
What Peter and the others saw that day / was the normal Jesus; that is who Jesus really is, that is who He was from eternity, and who He is now, and who He will always be. When the Son of God, the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity, took on human flesh, He did something that was not normal for Him. As a baby, He had to learn to speak. The One who created the whole universe by His Word, having to learn how to speak. When He was being beaten and nailed to the cross, one thought from Jesus could have wiped the whole Roman army off the face of His earth. // Jesus refrained from using His divine powers, and even after this Transfiguration event, Jesus told these three men, “you may tell no one this vision until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” Jesus was not Himself for most of His earthly life, but here, at the Transfiguration, He was Himself. Nothing was held back.
What would it be like to see God as He really is? To see something that has no hint of darkness in it at all? And what would it be like to see a miraculous cloud encircle them, and the Fatherly voice come from the cloud saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased: Listen to Him.” What would it be like? What would this do to sinful man? / Peter and the others fell upon their face and were intensely struck with fear. In other words, they worshiped Jesus, as He truly is, God, holy, righteous, pure light. And this Divine Majesty must suffer at the hands of His own creation? This is absurd. Peter and the others were afraid because they saw again how different the thoughts and ways of God are from their own thoughts and ways. / “There must be a better way, a way less painful and bloody, a way more inclusive and gentle and winsome.” That is blasphemy. Peter, James, and John knew it and were afraid. They had thought to give Jesus advice about how to redeem the world. They had tried to reject His grace and substitute a more reasonable way. Pure justice demanded that they die for this blasphemy and they knew it, and so they fell on their faces, afraid.
But God is not pure justice, He is mercy. Jesus came and touched them, and said, "Arise, do not be afraid." When they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Him, Jesus only. They had eyes only for Jesus, their Mediator and Savior. Having been struck down in fear, they were raised up by Him who would soon rise from the dead; they were cleansed / and focused.
Now, as we prepare to receive the Holy Supper of Our Lord. Let us consider how we are like these men in our weakness. / What is in your heart? If you have been casually laying plans for sin, how you will meet a lover, or manipulate your tax return, or lie about why a homework assignment was left undone, or if you were saving some bit of news to gossip about with your friends; Stop. Repent. Turn from your evil plans lest the Body of Christ become a judgment against you. If you have been pretending that your sins were necessary, or that you are simply a victim of your circumstances, or that somehow your sin would enable more good later, repent of these as well. Stop playing games with sin; stop trying to out-think God. Repent. Confess your sins to God right now. Express your sorrow over them, by actually making plans to stop them and to put discipline into effect that will make it more difficult to engage in them in the future. And ask for the help of the Holy Spirit: Plan to spend more time in prayer and in the Scriptures. Set your will to suffer the consequences of a moral life, to make the sacrifices necessary to resist temptation: the spirit is willing, but the flesh is so weak! And ask God for mercy, for restoration, for forgiveness for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Then / let that be enough, / lift your eyes and behold your Savior, be touched by Jesus. Eat His Body, drink His Blood, and hear Him say, "Arise, do not be afraid." For He comes not to judge but to cleanse, to join you to His death and resurrection. It is good, sinner, for you to be here. For here is where you are forgiven, you are restored to God, you are made to be the beloved sons of the Father, in whom He is well-pleased. And don't stop this. Be involved in the worship life of the Church where we continue to listen to Jesus and live in His grace, here, week after week, and / in our homes, day after day.
Today is the Festival of Jesus' Transfiguration; for the next two day (until you return here for Ash Wednesday service), let your mind meditate upon that holy vision of our Lord, because guess what? On that Last Great Day, that is what you will look like, too: pure, holy, sinless, radiant, robed in clothes that give you entrance into the Wedding Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which has no end.
To Him who sits on the throne and the Lamb, Jesus, be glory now and unto ages of ages.
In +Jesus' Name. Amen.
[Artwork by Ed Riojas]
[Artwork by Ed Riojas]