27 January 2007

Transfiguration Joys

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!


Anonymous said...

Isn't the observance on the Last Sunday of the Church Year a Lutheran innovation as well? We might even call it the Feast of the Ten Virgins?

Anonymous said...

Pastor Weedon,
Are there two different church calenders for Lutherans? Because of certain circumstances today, my family worshipped at two different LCMS churches. At the church I went to, it was Transfiguration Sunday. At the church my husband went to, it was not. He was told it is not the last Sunday of Epiphany. My church calender at home says Transfiguration Sunday is Feb. 18.

I have been really fascinated by the church year lately. The idea of PreLent is also new and interesting to me. I would appreciate it if you could clear this up for me.

William Weedon said...


There are two lectionaries in use in the Missouri Synod: the historic one-year and the three- year. If a parish uses the one year, today is Transfiguration, and the following Sundays are pre-Lent. If a parish uses the three-year, then this is just a Sunday after Epiphany, and Transfiguration will not be observed for another three weeks. Confusing, I know. I just wish everyone used the historic one-year series!

Anonymous said...

Thanks. Pastor Weedon.
I knew of the two lectionaries; I just didn't realize it affected the church year. That's a good enough reason for me to have all churches use one series!

Chris Jones said...

I just wish everyone used the historic one-year series!

It is sad that this is something that one must wistfully wish for. Truly, our Church body has no lex orandi -- every pastor and every congregation does what is right in its own eyes.

And if we have no lex orandi, what does that say about our lex credendi? At the very least, it robs our lex credendi of its proper context. And I would go further and say that it makes the Symbols (our lex credendi) autonomous and abstract, because they are no longer anchored in the Apostolic Tradition.

It is depressing.

Chris Jones said...

Another thing:

There are two lectionaries in use in the Missouri Synod

Even that is not really true; some pastors (I'm not naming any names) feel perfectly free to ignore the appointed propers and read whatever lessons fit into their "theme of the day" that they wish to preach on. So in truth there is no lectionary in use in the Missouri Synod. If a parish uses a lectionary, it is because they choose to bind themselves to a particular lectionary.

Dixie said...

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.

I am trying to recall from my class on the liturgy...I thought the big Lutheran contribution to the liturgical calendar (at least that is how it was presented to us) was the addition of a "Trinity Sunday". Are you familiar with this claim?

William Weedon said...


Trinity Sunday was a creation of the medieval Church that the Lutherans inherited.


While pastors may ignore it, there IS an official calendar for the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod. It is not only listed in our hymnal, but published in our Annual - first thing in that book each year, I believe. The variations between Historic One-year and Novus Ordo Three-year come into play only in the preservation of Pre-Lent in the historic. Otherwise, the calendar is largely the same. This is noted in the Hymnal on page x. You'll see how the one-year differs (also there is a difference in terminology later where the one year observes Sunday after Trinity and the three year observes Sundays after Pentecost).

Past Elder said...

The Transfiguration should have been left where it is, 6 August. If the simple fact that that is where it is isn't enough, in the contemporary age it attains another significance. 6 August is also the anniversary of the first transfiguration of human beings through the use of weapons of mass destruction. What a divine irony, Hiroshima on Transfiguration Day. There will be a transfiguration. Take your choice, human wisdom and get a transfiguration of one kind even when trying to do good, or God's wisdom and get the other.

And why would there be TWO lectionaries with their respective calendars? Was there a Reformation or not? Was Vatican II in Rome or St Louis? The official line of the three year lectionary is that it exposes more of Scripture. The real reason, having been taught by some of those who championed it, is that it promotes works over grace, sanctification over justification, by de-emphasising the miracle stories prominent in the real lectionary, which in historical critical class we learned probably didn't happen anyway, for more moral teaching.

The result being we have supposed traditionalists no more connected to the church's historic worship tradition than those who use "praise" services or the latest from Willow Creek, despite the superficial resemblance of the former's replacement, novus ordo missae Lutheran edition, to the Divine Service.

Then again, maybe two is a good thing in the sense that at least the historic liturgy survives with us whereas the originators of the novus ordo, Rome, have suppressed their version of it entirely.

If I sound cranky, sorry, it's not from this, it's from casting the only Nay vote at a Voter's Meeting yesterday for a nomination, let the reader understand.

William Weedon said...

Past Elder,

I have always found the symbiotic relationship between Rome and the Lutherans of interest. Rome catches and cold and the Lutherans sneeze. Somehow, it still shines as a beacon of hope that the Western Church, despite its fragmentation is still one. Sadly, that means it's also one when it comes to passing on diseases - like the novus ordo. : )

Jeremy said...


I understand why the Lutherans moved Transfiguration, but why did the rest of the church change it to Aug 6 in the late middle ages (from sometime in June or July, right?).


Jeremy said...

By the way, here's a meditation I wrote up for my church where I'm a pastoral intern (feel free to critique it -- or delete it if it's too long):


This Sunday in the liturgical calendar is Transfiguration Sunday, celebrated on the final Sunday in Epiphany as the climax of the season. Because the Epiphany season itself is the culmination of the Advent and Christmas seasons, Transfiguration Sunday is in a real sense the culminating Sunday of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. On Transfiguration Sunday, we celebrate Jesus’ transfiguration (the text says Jesus was metamorphosized) on the mountain, where Peter, John, and James watched in amazement as the radiant Jesus spoke with the glorified Moses and Elijah (Matt 17.1-6, Mk 9.1-8, Lk 9.28-36).

During Epiphany season, of course, we observe the various “epiphanies” or manifestations in Jesus’ life that reveal his identity as the promised King. On Transfiguration Sunday, we observe the crowning epiphany of the Epiphany season, for no epiphany in this season is more revealing of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God than Jesus’ glorification on the mountain and the Father’s announcement that “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Lk 9.35). As we commemorate the glory and brilliance of our transfigured Lord, we are compelled to identify him as “Son of God … Light of Light, Very God of Very God” (Nicene Creed).

One of the other great epiphanies that we celebrate during the Epiphany season is the Baptism of Jesus, which has a salient parallel to the Transfiguration of Jesus: After John baptizes Jesus, the Father declares, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased!” (Lk 3.22); and after Moses and Elijah talk with the transfigured Jesus about his upcoming death, the Father likewise declares, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Lk 9.35). In each of these epiphanies, the Father explicitly identifies Jesus as the “chosen servant” of Isaiah 42.1 (who is also the “suffering servant” of Isaiah 53). As we compare these two epiphanies, we see that the glory of Jesus’ baptism gives way to the glory of his transfiguration. That which we heard and saw wondrously in Jesus’ baptism, we now hear and see even more vividly in Jesus’ transfiguration: namely, that Jesus is the true messianic Son of God. Further, we see that Jesus is both the fulfillment of Elijah and all the prophets, and the greater Moses whose suffering will achieve an even greater “exodus, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem” (Lk 9.31). As Jesus moves from glory to glory, ironically he also is moving closer to his crucifixion, his “exodus.” Ultimately, though, Jesus is headed toward his resurrection, the true epiphany of epiphanies, which demonstrates once and for all that he is the true Son of God.

Transfiguration Sunday, therefore, in addition to being the consummation of the Epiphany season, points forward to both Good Friday and Easter Sunday, to the fullness of Jesus’ exodus that he accomplished in Jerusalem. Of course, it also points to the glory beyond the resurrection – to Jesus’ ascension, to his coming in glory in AD 70 to vindicate his people, and ultimately to his unimaginably glorious return at the resurrection of the dead. Though the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Anglican Communion observe the Feast of the Transfiguration on August 6th in their liturgical calendars, it is certainly fitting to observe Jesus’ transfiguration, as do most liturgical Protestant churches, in culmination of Epiphany (a festive season focusing on Jesus’ glorious Kingship and Sonship) and in anticipation of Lent (a somber season focusing on Jesus’ cruciform suffering and death); indeed, the theme of the transfiguration story is glory via death. It is literarily significant that, in all three synoptic Gospels, the transfiguration passages come immediately after Jesus predicts his own death and resurrection to his disciples and commands them to take up their own crosses. Cross-bearing always comes before real glory. Luke also tells us that the very subject of Jesus’ conversation with Moses and Elijah was his upcoming death (exodus) in Jerusalem (Lk 9.31). No doubt the emphasis of Transfiguration Sunday is Christ’s glory; however, Jesus’ radiant transfiguration glory is only a glimpse of his resurrection glory. Real glory, to which Transfiguration Sunday points, comes on the other side of the Via Dolorosa and Good Friday.

Transfiguration Sunday is a “pre-Lent” narrative, a pointer to the darkness of Good Friday and the glory of Easter Sunday – and so it is a reminder of the cruciform genesis of true glory. As you behold the glory of the transfigured Lord this Sunday, resolve to put away your sin and to take up your cross daily, thereby being transformed into His resurrection image from glory to glory (2 Cor 3.18).