Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sermon: Transfiguration of our Lord

24 January 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 17:1-9 (Ex 3:1-14, 2 Pet 1:16-21)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

We have very bad memories. Thanks to sin, we have forgotten what it is like to see God face to face, to walk with Him in the cool of the day, to call to mind the days of perfect and continual communion with Him.

That’s the bad news.

But the good news is that the Lord is merciful, and He gives us many and various reminders of His love, numerous previews of the glory of the restored creation yet to be revealed, and repeatedly tells us what we need to know to have that broken fellowship mended.

In fact, we gather in this place week after week to hear what amounts to be the same message again and again. We partake of the same sacrament over and over. And in the Holy Eucharist, the Lord Himself reminds us: “Do this in memory of me” – repeating word for word the Lord’s institution of the Supper in the eternal echo of the Church’s liturgy. And given how poor our memories are, thanks be to God that we are reminded again and again.

Since the fall in the Garden of Eden, the Lord has withdrawn His face from us, no longer walks in the cool of the day with us, and even as the old sinful flesh clings to us, we do not enjoy perfect and continual communion with God.

That’s the bad news.

But the good news is that the Lord is merciful, and He allows mankind small glimpses underneath the protective veil that shields us from His overwhelming glory. He reveals His name. He speaks to us. He takes on our flesh. He allows us to see His face in the less threatening countenance of His fully divine and yet fully human Son. He walks with us for three years, and offers Himself as the perfect and continual communion that is God under the veiled forms of bread and wine.

God takes pity on us, knowing that our sinful and faulty memory needs help, for “we have something more sure,” says St. Peter, “the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention.” This is the same St. Peter who was an eyewitness “of His majesty… when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Peter points us not only to His eyewitness account, but also to the Word of God – equally a divine revelation of the God who wants us to remember.

In fact, this is the second time the Father spoke these same words, “This is My beloved Son” in the hearing of men. God knows repetition helps us to remember.

A common remembrance all throughout the Old Testament was the calling to mind of the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt. The Exodus is remembered liturgically every year to this day by the descendants of those who miraculously walked with unmoistened foot through the Red Sea. For the Lord Himself considered this deliverance a “sign for you,” as verification that He had indeed sent Moses.

And Moses would be dispatched again, centuries later, on the Mountain of Transfiguration, where the burning bush and the glowing face of Moses would be called to mind anew by the radiant Jesus, glowing with supernatural light and speaking with Moses and Elijah. We are reminded of the law and the prophets in a way that Peter, James, and John were sure never to forget. Just as the multicolored rainbow was a sign of God’s mercy in the heavens after the flood, here is yet another dazzling sign in the sky – the beaming white luminosity shining off of His face and His clothing – the entire spectrum of the rainbow combined into one pure blazing white light.

“We were eyewitnesses,” says Peter. This transfiguration is not something one would tend to forget. And he also reminds us that God’s Word is not the stuff of myth, but rather “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

And lest we forget, dear brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit caused these words to be recorded, these revelations, these reminders of the Lord’s mercy in a written form, where we can read them again and again, constantly reminding our sinful forgetful nature that we are sinners, that we are called to repent, that we are forgiven, and that we are promised eternal life in a new and better age. We are reminded of this promise, and we are urged to call these promises to mind.

The Lord Jesus took Peter, James, and John on the mountain by themselves and lifted the veil, being transfigured, changed in form, once again reminding them that they were not dealing with an ordinary man. His beaming face reminded them of the sun. He reminded them that He is the fulfillment of the entire Old Testament – something He had told them before, and now shows them as a more graphic and visual reminder, calling to mind the law in the form of Moses and the prophets in the form of Elijah. The voice of the Father reminds them of God’s complexity, God being both Father and Son, who chronicles the event by the Holy Spirit.

The Lord Jesus mercifully reminds the three disciples – especially Peter who was earlier frightened by the display of the divinity of Jesus involving a miraculous catch of fish – that there is nothing to fear. For “Jesus came and touched them,” reminding them that His touch is a healing touch, and that His words bring the peace that passes all understanding.

“And when they lifted up their eyes,” reports St. Matthew, “they saw no one but Jesus only.” The holy evangelist reminds us, as he spoke “from God… carried along by the Holy Spirit,” that we are to fix our eyes on Jesus, set our minds on things from above, and look to “Jesus only” for salvation and life.

And later, on another high hill, one of the three disciples who witnessed our Lord’s transfiguration, St. John, stood beneath the cross. There he saw another transfiguration, another change in form in the countenance of Jesus. He saw His glory veiled in His suffering, His radiance hidden in His passion. He saw God robed in humility, reminding us of both our sins and of His mercy. And surely the apostle John must have called to mind the Lord’s words: “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” Easter was a glorious reminder of the Transfiguration of Jesus.

And though our sinfulness makes us forget whose we are at times, dear brothers and sisters, the Lord is there to remind us anew of His mighty deeds of the past, His acts of grace in the present, and His eternal glory that He will share with us in the eternity to come, when we shall see God face to face, walk with Him in the cool of the day, and call to mind the days of perfect and continual communion with Him, world without end. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Warren said...

??? What liturgical calendar are you following?? For most of us, the Transfiguration is not for another three weeks.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Warren:

In the One Year Lectionary (See Lutheran Service Book pages xx - xxi in the front part), yesterday was Transfiguration. The next three Sundays are Pre-Lent (the "Gesima" Sundays).

This is the same lectionary that was used in The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) and is the same historic lectionary used by Luther and the Reformation fathers as well as the pre-Reformation Church.

You are using the more common Three Year Lectionary (LSB xiv - xix) that has its roots in Vatican II (1962-1965). The Three Year Lectionary abolished Pre-Lent and thus added three weeks to the Epiphany season and moved Transfiguration back three weeks.

I hope I didn't muddy the waters too bad there!