The Transfiguration of Our Lord
February 11, 2024
This is a big day for sports fans with Super Bowl 58 happening later today as the San Francisco 49ers play the Kansas City Chiefs in Las Vegas. Kansas City’s Travis Kelce says, “It’s fun to gather the Swifties [fans of Taylor Swift] in the Chiefs kingdom” as he welcomes fans of girlfriend Taylor Swift to football (Super Bowl 58: Travis Kelce says 'it's fun to gather the Swifties in the Chiefs kingdom' - BBC Sport). Whether you’re watching the Super Bowl for the football, the commercials, or Taylor Swift, it’s a big day. Tomorrow – the day after the Super Bowl – is widely believed to be when the most people call out sick for the entire year. I have discovered that this is not true. “According to employee-tracking company Flamingo, more people call out sick on Aug. 24 than any other day of the year” (Most called in sick day of the year? It's August 24, worker study says (delawareonline.com). Who knew? Today is a big day for another reason: we celebrate this day as the Transfiguration of Our Lord. In heart and mind, we travel with Peter, James and John up the mountain and view Jesus in his heavenly glory. The words from the Gospel lesson serve as the focus for today’s message: “And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only” (Mark 9:8). “Jesus Only” is the theme for today’s message. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
The Epiphany season ends as it began, suffused with heavenly light. Epiphany began with the coming of the Wise Men bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, to honor the Christ Child. They were guided to Jesus by the light of that heavenly star which pointed the way (Matthew 2:1-11). And now, atop the Mount of Transfiguration, the light of Jesus’ eternal glory and splendor shines through his human nature. Light surrounds the One who is himself the Light of the world, and who tells us “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). At Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River, the Father’s voice was heard from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). And now, once more at Jesus’ transfiguration, the Father’s voice is heard again: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (Mark 9:7b). It is Jesus only who is the Light of the world; Jesus only who is the Father’s beloved Son.
In the midst of our busy and hectic lives, we can easily lose sight of Jesus. We get distracted by all sorts of things that divert our attention away from Jesus only. When we do have opportunity to step away from all this, like Peter, James, and John who went up with Jesus on the mountain, it can be transforming. Up there, removed from all the demands and duties of life, we get a new perspective. We see things more clearly, and we want to hold onto that for as long as we can. We even call such things “mountain top experiences.” In our mountain top enthusiasm, like Peter, we may blurt out things that are kind of strange: “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Mark 9:5). Like Peter, we want to hold onto that mountain top experience! We want it to last, and we certainly don’t want to come down from the mountain back into the ordinary ho-hum stuff of daily life. But it doesn’t work that way, does it? We do have to come back down the mountain, just as Jesus did.
Flanked by those towering figures from the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets, at the center is Jesus only, who came to fulfill all that was written in the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). The Law condemns us for our failure to keep God’s commands, and the Prophets call us to repentance. As we will sing in the coming Lenten season, the message of the Law and the Prophets is to “return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:13). The Law and the Prophets all find their fulfillment in the life and ministry, the death and resurrection of Jesus only. Can we find someone else who would willingly lay down his or her life for us? Will there be someone – anyone – who will step into our shoes and become the sacrifice for our sin? Not even Moses and Elijah could do that. Jesus only could do that, and Jesus only did do that. Because of what Jesus only has done – his life-giving death upon the cross as full payment for all of our sins – in faith we now boldly say with Paul the apostle as that final verse in today’s Epistle lesson (2 Corinthians 3:12-13, 4:1-6) says: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
Moses died, as we read in Scripture (Deuteronomy 34:5ff.), even as we ourselves will also die. Elijah was different. As we heard in today’s Old Testament lesson (2 Kings 2:1-12), he was taken up into heaven in a chariot and horses of fire. An image of Elijah’s chariot of fire is found here in our Sanctuary on the choir loft wall. It represents Jesus’ own ascension, reminding us that as Elijah was taken up into heaven, so was our transfigured Lord Jesus Christ, after his own suffering, death and resurrection (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:6-11). And now, on the Mount of Transfiguration, both of these figures from long ago, are there present with Jesus. Where Jesus is, there are his people – those who are living and those who have gone before us in the faith. As Jesus himself tells us: “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25b-26). All of this is possible through Jesus only. That is our hope and our joy.
The original word for “transfigured” (μεταμοφόω) is where we get our word “metamorphosis.” We usually think of this word with the change or transformation of form that we see in some creatures, like the butterfly, breaking out of its chrysalis to become that beautiful winged creature. Jesus’ “metamorphosis” took place here on the mountain top, but only briefly, and witnessed only by Peter, James and John. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus charged them not to not to tell others about this “until the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (Mark 9:9b). Only then would all of this make sense. Only in the light of Jesus’ ultimate metamorphosis – his resurrection – would this be understood. For now, they had to keep this to themselves, but we do not. If anything, we are to do the opposite. We are to go and tell, making disciples of all nations, as Jesus calls us to do in his Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). We are not to keep this Good News to ourselves, but share this freely with all people everywhere.
Transfiguration Sunday leads us into the coming season of Lent with Ash Wednesday just a few days away. Worship today closes with the beautiful but solemn “Farewell to Alleluia.” As we follow Jesus down the mountain, into the valley of his own suffering, death, and resurrection, we do so in firm faith knowing that Jesus – Jesus only – does all of this for us. Amen.