Lutherans were not very innovative when it came to the Church Year- they really only made two major changes. One was to set aside a day to remember and give thanks for the Reformation, and the other was to move the Festival of the Transfiguration from a fixed observance on the sixth of August to the last Sunday after Epiphany each year. It was a brilliant move!
For Epiphany is the season of our Lord’s manifestation – celebrating how He revealed His divine glory. From the star of the Magi shining over the place where the divine infant lay, to the Spirit descending upon Jesus in the waters of Jordan, to the water changed into wine at Cana’s wedding, in miracle after miracle nature joins in testifying that Jesus is more than just a man. Jesus is the Eternal Son of God in human flesh and blood. Nature testifies with the Divine Spirit: This is the Maker! This is the Master! This is the One all nature delights to witness to and serve!
And so how better to close out the season of manifestation than that awe-inspiring moment on the mountain, when the Lord manifested His glory by showing the disciples His humanity utterly illumined by the divine nature?
Make no mistake about it: it’s not like a huge spotlight was shining on Jesus. It’s like Jesus became a huge spotlight! Like an iron glowing in the fire, so the humanity of the Lord glowed that night in the radiance of the divine Light of His divinity. Even his clothes were transformed and began to shine, a sign that He had come to transfigure all of creation. To make it all new again. To suffuse it in the divine radiance.
As Peter and James and John gazed upon this astounding sight, they were looking at something they’d never forget. They saw Him glow! John put it like this: “We have seen His glory – glory that can only belong to the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Peter would write: “We were eye-witnesses to His majesty on the holy mountain!” James, of course, was martyred for his Lord before he could write anything.
To set this glorious Transfiguration of Jesus on the boundary between Epiphany and Lent was truly a stroke of genius. It reminds us each year of WHO we are following to Calvary, of WHO is hanging upon the Cross, trampling down death by death! It is the Only-begotten of the Father, the One who suspended the earth in mid-heaven who is now suspended above the earth. And this glory that He shows on Transfiguration is not just glory for Him – it’s the glory He came to give to us.
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But Christ, the Glory of God in human flesh and blood, has come to restore that glory to humanity through His suffering, death, and resurrection. He showed that glory on Transfiguration as a reminder to us all of where we’re headed, of how WE will look when He is through with us, when He brings His baptized people through their own Calvary to the glory of Resurrection morning. “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” “He will change our lowly body to be like His glorious body by the power that enables Him to subdue all things to Himself.”
Transfiguration! The feast of our future glory in union with Jesus Christ! Glory to Him forever and ever!