Topic: Biblical Verse: Matthew 17:1–9
Festival of the Transfiguration
February 19, 2023
The name Leandro Erlich is probably not a familiar one. He is an Argentinian artist who creates public displays and works that play with and challenge our sense of perspective. Some of these look like they are impossible, and that’s the point. Down looks like up and safe looks dangerous. One of his works is entitled “Pulled by the Roots,” (in Karlsruhe, Germany) which reminds us that as “living beings on an ever-changing planet, we cannot extricate ourselves from the organic world; the architecture that we create is part and parcel of our environment. At the same time, this piece works to remind us that underneath the tons of metal and concrete of our cities, a vital organic presence remains” (Leandro Erlich). Another of his works is entitled “The Furniture Lift - the Ultimate Moving Out” (originally placed in Nantes, France). Here, Erlich imagined an impossible situation: a furniture lift leaning against a window, which is the only part remaining of a building… and floating in the air. The piece turns a common event into a perturbing spectacle. It invites us to reflect about a double impossibility, at the time contradictory and vital…” (Leandro Erlich). And one more: In “Swimming Pool” (located in Kanazawa, Japan)… a life-size pool [is] divided into two spaces: the upper and exterior one, which generates the very convincing illusion of seeing people under the water (in fact, it’s only a thin layer of water put on a transparent pane); and the lower and interior one, in which people can enter. In this blue room where the reflections of the water are dancing, one feels he is in an unreal place, totally out of his daily experience” (Leandro Erlich). Today, perspectives are turned upside-down with Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain top. “The past is brought into the present, and the present draws in the future as Jesus reigns in glory. And as Lent will bring into focus, the road to Jesus’ glory is filled with suffering and struggle” (Sundays and Seasons: Year A 2023. Minneapolis: Augsburg-Fortress, 2022; p. 96). Based on the Gospel lesson, today’s message is entitled “Past-Present-Future.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
As the Epiphany season began, so it concludes. At Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River, the Father’s voice was heard: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17), and now again, at Jesus’ transfiguration, the Father’s voice again says the same: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). Are we listening? That’s the question before us. There are many voices calling out to us each and every day, all vying for our attention. But among those myriad voices, there is only one that bestows forgiveness, life and salvation – the voice of the Father’s beloved Son. This is a call for us to shut out the noise and distractions that are all around us, and do some serious listening.
There on the Mount of Transfiguration, the past and the future are all gathered together in the present; that fleeting present moment. Moses and Elijah, those towering figures from the Old Testament who represent the Law and the Prophets, have been dead for centuries, but here they are. Is this some kind of smoke-and-mirrors trick? Some sort of optical illusion? No, this is reality – the divine reality in Jesus, the Father’s beloved Son, that transcends the limits of human understanding. This is the reality that caused Peter, James and John to fall down, cringing with fear and dread. But Peter attests to the truth of what he saw and experienced as we heard in today’s Epistle lesson: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For 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,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18). As we heard in today’s Old Testament lesson (Exodus 24:8-18), Moses went up the mountain at God’s command, and was enveloped in the cloud that covered God’s own glory. Once again, that bright cloud from the past is seen in the present at Jesus’ transfiguration. In Scripture, it is this cloud that heralds the Lord’s presence, shielding human eyes from seeing things that are too much to comprehend and beyond description.
The future of Jesus’ glory as the Son of God is revealed there on the mountain top, but that glory will come about only through suffering, rejection, pain and death. How tempting it must have been for Jesus to do what Peter blurted out: to enshrine that present moment and remain up there on the mountain top. But that is not what Jesus came to do, and the Father’s beloved Son leads his disciples down the mountain, to the valley of suffering and death. Jesus’ future will take him to another mountain where a different kind of glory will be revealed – the glory of Jesus as the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). There on the cross of Mount Calvary, Jesus will offer his life as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world, for your sins and mine. Jesus has paid the price for the debt of our sins, not with gold or silver, but with his own precious blood (1 Peter 1:18-19). And because of this, we also are being transfigured bit by bit, day by day, as more and more through the power of the Holy Spirit we become more like Jesus. Our old selfish and sinful ways give way to a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). The original word for transfigured (μεταμορφόω) is where we get our word “metamormorphosis.” Jesus’ eternal heavenly splendor breaks through the form of his earthly human body there on the mountaintop. Because we are a new creation in Jesus, we, too, have the hope of sharing in his eternal glory.
In Jesus, who is, who was, and who is to come (Revelation 1:4), our past, our present, and our future all converge. Together with Moses and Elijah; together with Peter, James and John; together with believers from every time and place; together with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven, let us listen to the Father’s beloved Son, following him down the mountain of glory back into the valley of daily life with all of its joys and sorrows, its pain and pleasure, its challenges and opportunities. Not only does our transfigured Savior go before us, he himself goes with us. He promises that he will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Amen.