The Transfiguration of our Lord – Historic Lectionary – Matthew 17:1-9 – February 5, 2017
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus does not need to go up the mountain,
He doesn’t need the listening ears or the helpful advice of Moses and Elijah,
None of this, nothing of what happens on the mountain is for him,
All of it, from start to finish, is for Peter, James and John, indeed, for you.
For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve,
and to give His life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28)
So the transfiguration serves the disciples as food for the coming journey,
the strengthening of their weak and feeble faith.
It is a last moment of peace and comfort and clarity
Before the bloody road to Jerusalem begins.
For after they come down the mountain,
Satan will try to sift them as wheat,
The will be under constant attack, and perpetual temptation,
Their entire lives will be thrown into chaos.
So He is transfigured before them, so He lets them listen in to the conversation with Moses and Elijah, and so also, and don’t miss the point here, so also the Father’s voice comes down from heaven, not as a threat, not as a scare tactic, but as comfort, encouragement, a Word for Peter, James and John.
We would do well to think on this, to let it settle in to our hearts and minds. To remember with Peter, James and John all of the ways in which the Lord’s Words comes for us.
Sometimes it comes with ecstasy and joy, sometimes with head-scratching and frustration, other times with fear and trembling…but no matter how it comes, and how we experience them, the Word that comes from the Lord, always comes for you, for life and salvation, comfort, and rest.
And so with excitement and joy Jesus is changed in their sight, his face shines like the sun, and so they see that He is, in fact, God in the Flesh, the author of life, the judge over death.
So with such joy they are comforted by his final words, “Not to say anything until the Son of Man should be raised from the dead.”
Indeed they have seen it, it is certain, a guarantee.
Death cannot hold this Jesus, How can He not rise from the dead?
How can He not go forward in victory to the city of Jerusalem.
So also, Moses and Elijah appear with Him, and Jesus lets his disciples listen in.
And just what exactly are they discussing?
Matthew, in our Gospel lesson does not tell us,
But St. Luke lets us in on the conversation, as he writes,
“They spoke about His departure,
which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:31)
The word for departure is better translated as Exodus.
There were talking about His Exodus, that is, the final journey of God’s people, indeed the whole human race, out of slavery, a journey through death, that is made possible by the blood of the lamb who covers them and leads them by death and blood and sacrifice into the promised land, the place of peace, the city of God.
Jesus, Moses and Elijah are talking about Good Friday. About His body given up, His blood to be poured out. This is the conversation that is for the disciples.
And if it is for them, then we might also ask this question, how exactly were they discussing this?
What was the mood? What were the expressions of their faces?
It may sound like a strange question, but it is actually important.
Did they speak in a whisper with downcast faces?
Was the mood somber and agonizing?
Did they beg Jesus, like Peter Himself, to not go to the cross?
To save his own skin and reject that bloody death?
This is not how the Word of God – the Word given through Moses in the Law, or through Elijah in the Prophets – this is not how the Word speaks of that Exodus on Good Friday.
It is not with sadness, but rather joy and expectation that the host of heaven looks forward to Jesus’ death.
Though we as sinners flinch at the passion of Christ, Heaven does not, the angels do not, and Moses and Elijah, having died in the Lord and now seeing through eternity; they also rejoice.
The Psalmist cries out, this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)
As we near the Season of Lent, may we also think on these things, the joy of Good Friday, the mercy of God that does not ask you to be sad, or to feel bad, but the mercy of God in Christ Jesus that comes as the day that heaven and earth rejoice in.
And yet, we balk at it, we flinch and cringe at the coming suffering, and so with St. Peter, we interrupt the gift that is being given, and suggest a different way. Let us instead stay here, not think on these things, but be happy in the moment.
The Lord has every right to terrify us, to scold us and toss us to the curb, He has every right to now show Peter to be the fool.
But He is merciful. And instead of slapping Peter upside the head, the Father now comes in the cloud to encourage him, to strengthen him in his weakness.
And so He reminds Peter who this Jesus is, the Beloved Son, with whom the Father is well-pleased to see Him heading towards Good Friday, the one given to us that we might Listen to Him.
Not simply to think on him, not to contemplate our feelings toward Him, but to receive Him as He speaks, as He comforts, as He preaches, forgives, washes and feeds us.
So with this Word, with this reminder and food of faith given to the disciples, Jesus now leads them down the mountain.
They are prepared and fed, they are ready and well-comforted, the road to Jerusalem is ready to begin.
So now we come to perhaps the most important question in the transfiguration.
Did any of this comfort, and peace, and preparation, did any of this help?
Did it make the disciples more faithful, more ready?
Did it have any effect on what would soon take place in Jerusalem?
If we were cynics and scoffers, those who find pleasure in other peoples’ failures, those who rejoice in the chance to say, “I told you so” or “I knew this would happen”, those who flip on the TV, or open their phone, or read the newspaper simply for the pure satisfaction and revelry of watching someone else be made the fool, hurt themselves and hurt others.
If we were cynics and scoffers, we would answer that question and say,
It doesn’t do anything, there isn’t a point, it doesn’t help.
After all, Peter, James and John are still going to doze off in the garden having been commanded to stay awake.
Peter is still going to lash out in anger against the guards who come to arrest Jesus.
All of the disciples will still flee the scene of Jesus’ betrayal, leaving Him alone in His own suffering.
And Peter is still going to deny Jesus, not once, but three times.
What a strange definition and fleshing out of what is to be strengthened and preserved in the One True Faith.
Everything gets messed up. Nothing goes as planned.
And yet, if we’re tempted to scoff at the disciples’ failures in Jerusalem, then we too should take a quick look in the mirror.
For the unbelieving world around us would say the same thing of our own lives lived from Sunday afternoon to Sunday morning the next week.
The Lord who bids you to come and rest and be found at peace in comfort here.
The One who calls you up to the mount of His altar, where He is transfigured before you in Body and Blood, Bread and Wine, all for your comfort, your strength, your faith.
Where He then dismisses you with encouragement, sending you back not only down to the pew, but into the week, into the world, into the places where He has planted you.
Here He comforts and encourages you with the Words of the Dismissal, “Now may this, the true body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, strengthen and preserve you in the One True Faith.”
Indeed, the world looks at the Church, it watches her go into the service and come out for the week ahead, and it asks the same cynical question.
What was the point?
Will any of this really help?
Will it bear any benefit?
After all, the weakness of Monday morning still comes to the Christian, along with all of the same attacks, the same beloved sins, and the same painful sufferings.
We still fall asleep in the faith, having just now been encouraged to stay awake.
We still lash out in anger against our neighbor, as if Sunday never happened.
We still deny the Christ, not just once, but countless times in front of our families, our co-workers, our classmates, and neighbors.
Our journey back down the mountain is full up messing everything up, time and time again.
So what was the point?
Did any of it actually help?
Did any of it actually mean anything?
Christ Himself knows full well what the road to Jerusalem will bring.
And not just in terms of his passion, suffering and death, but also of His disciples.
He knows what lies ahead for them.
And yet still He gives strength and food for the journey.
Their weakness, their stumbling, their messing everything up, is not His chief concern, for in truth, that’s what it means to be man, and that’s what it means to confess true faith; to be weak, to have no strength of your own, to be overwhelmed and overtaken.
Still Christ comforts his disciples, and still He believes that His Word will do what it is given for.
That though Peter, James and John will make a mess of Good Friday and everything else, still the strength that Christ gives them will do its work.
For this is the strength of the Lord that the Scriptures tell us is given in our weakness, in our suffering, in our stumbling.
It is the cry of the Christian after he has rock bottom yet again, after his Monday is spent and his strength is dried up, this is the strength of Christ himself, to be found in the prayer, “Lord have mercy, I have messed it all up again, Christ forgive me, I am not what I want to be.”
In this, this humble prayer, this weakness of the Christian, in this is the strengthening of your faith, and so the gift and promise of its preservation unto life everlasting.
For it is the faith that looks not to itself, not its efforts, and self-improvement, not to its sly ability to hide sin and cover up the mess, but it is the faith given to the disciples, to hear the mercy of Christ say to you, Rise and have no fear, death cannot hold you, your failures do not condemn you, for I have taken them all, and give to you all that I am.
So come in faith to the mountain of our Lord, to the place of His comfort and rest, to the moment where He is transfigured for you, to speak, to feed, to forgive and to send back into the world.
Hear the voice of Jesus calling out in the host and in the cup, Rise and have no fear, you are forgiven and free.
Look out to the week ahead not with cynicism or despair, but in the strengthening of your faith.
That what the Lord gives to you here, is peace when you hit rock bottom, repentance when you mess it all up again, and faith to look not to yourselves but to Jesus, to see as Peter, James and John behold on the mountain.
Jesus, and Jesus only.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.