Luke 9:28-36; Hebrews 3:1-6
Beloved in the Lord:
In a few short days the colors of the church will return to violet, the color of repentance. Ashes will adorn the foreheads of the baptized, reminding us that we are dust and to dust we shall return. We will bid farewell to the ‘alleluias’ and the Gloria in Excelsis, a sober reminder of the day when the voice of our Creator was silenced in death.
Today, however, the church is decked in white for the feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord. For one day, we get a glimpse of the glory that belongs to Christ, and the future glory of the Church. With the disciples, we see Christ today as he is in his essence and nature, and confess with St. Paul that in Him “all the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily.” In His transfiguration, Jesus shows Himself to be of one and the same essence with the God who appeared to Moses in the burning bush. And as with the bush, so with Christ: Flames of divine fire burn, but do not consume.
If all the miracles and signs that Jesus did during his earthly ministry were not enough to convince His followers that He was the Son of God, then surely they would be convinced when they saw the “unborrowed light” of God’s glory shining from within the humanity of Christ. After witnessing such a sight, who could deny that Jesus was the Son of God who not only speaks the words of God but is Himself the divine Word of the Father? Who can ever look at Jesus the same again? Certainly not the disciples, who fell on their faces in fear when they heard the voice from the cloud say: “This is my Son, My Chosen One; Listen to him.”
For the disciples, the Transfiguration was one of those “Just what I needed” moments. They needed to see for themselves that there was more to Jesus than meets the eye. They needed to see this so that they would understand that no mere man hung on the cross and bled, that no mere man bowed his thorn-crowned head in death, but He who is “God of God, Light of Light, and very God of very God.” No doubt this vision was meant to strengthen the disciples’ faith, and to prepare them for the difficult days ahead, when they would see this same Lord beaten, mocked, and finally crucified on Good Friday.
Could it be that Christ wanted them to remember this glorious vision so that they would not despise Him in his hour of agony and shame? Christ certainly knew that the time was coming for Him to be glorified in His death. The time was coming when the clothes which now gleamed white would be stripped and divided among the soldiers; when the face that now shone with the brilliance of the sun would be marred beyond recognition, according to the prophecy of Isaiah; when the Temple of His flesh would be pierced with nails and spear. Surely He wanted this image seared into their minds, imprinted in such a way that they would never forget it. In the end, it wasn’t enough. All of them would fall away and abandon Him despite what they saw when He was transfigured. The cross was too much even for their eyes.
But isn’t this typical of human nature under sin? The eyes of men love to gaze upon the shining face of Jesus. We love the Christ who shines brightly like the Sun. We adore the Jesus whose appearance is beautiful to our eyes. This is a Jesus we can love and admire. This is the vision that we, like Peter, would love to prolong and preserve. “Lord, it is good for us to be here!” It is the Jesus that suffers and dies that we cannot handle. It is the face that bruised and beaten that causes us offense. We cannot bear to look upon the face of God’s Son bowed in death, because in that image we see the gravity and the final end of our sins.
It was good to be on the mountain where Jesus was transfigured. Not so good to be on the mountain of Calvary, where Christ’s blood was poured out for the sins of men. On the cross, the sun refused to give its light. In His death He was despised and rejected by men, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” There no voice from heaven spoke, but only the sad cry of Jesus: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” And yet, in that agony, in that bitter death God and man were reconciled. Forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation were won for all.
The contrast between these two events—Transfiguration and Good Friday—should tell us something about the Christian life. Many Christians have the mistaken belief that life for a believer is lived from one moment of glory to the next, that there is something wrong if you are experiencing pain, or humiliation or rejection. But the Christian life is not always a Transfiguration. Sometimes it is a cross. Sometimes it is more like Good Friday. Humiliation, suffering, and rejection were the familiar friends of Christ and it is no different with us who belong to Christ. It is always sad to see someone fall away from the faith when they find that being a Christian is more like Christ on the cross than Christ on the Mountain of Transfiguration.
But the Christian life has those moments of glory too. It is not always Good Friday for the Christian either. It is not always suffering and pain. Nor will it be in the life to come. Most of the time our glory and our majesty as Christians is hidden, like it was in Christ, under much suffering and rejection and humility. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Just because a Christian this side of heaven lives a life from cross to cross doesn’t mean that there is nothing else to look forward to.
If anything, The Transfiguration of Jesus gives us a preview of what awaits those who remain faithful to His Word. It is a “whetting” of our appetites, a foretaste of the feast to come, meant to give us strength as we bear our crosses and as we endure sickness and sorrow. It is meant to give us comfort and joy in the midst of so much pain and heartache. The Transfiguration is as much for us a “just what I needed” moment as it was for the disciples; just what I need when my faith is weak; just what I need when the circumstances of life cause me to doubt Christ and his promise of eternal glory.
If we Christians can look to the cross and say: “Christ has taken away all my sins, and shed his blood for me,” then perhaps we can look at the Mountain of Transfiguration and say: “Be patient. All is not what it seems. Our glory is hidden right now, hidden under the cross and suffering, hidden under weakness and humility, but soon the veil will be removed and we will see Christ as He is, and we will be like Him, for we share in His glory.” Or, to use the words of St. Paul, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
We also may learn what Peter means when he calls us Christians “partakers of the divine nature.” In Christ’s holy Supper, we are fed not merely bread and wine, but the true body and true blood of Jesus Christ. If then we eat of His body and drink of His blood, do we not also become partakers of His divine nature? Do we not also partake of the same divine light and glory that was seen by Peter, James, and John on the holy mountain? In the Sacrament we too may say with Peter: “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”
In the midst of cross and trial, temptation and anguish, the Christian may find this consolation: that the divine glory of Christ that was revealed to the disciples is also present within them and it too will be revealed when Christ returns as judge. As you prepare for Ash Wednesday and the beginning of our Lenten Fast, may this image of Christ be seared also in your minds, giving you a constant reminder of the glory that belongs to Christ, and to the Church in Him. Amen.