12 February 2011

A Homily upon the Transfiguration

What's this miracle of the Transfiguration all about?  When you think about Jesus and his miracles, you soon realize that he doesn't throw them about indiscriminately; he doesn't waste them; above all he doesn't do them to show off.  Time and again we hear Him saying after a miracle:  "Keep quiet about it.  Tell no one."  The miracle of the Transfiguration proves no exception to that rule.

Behind Jesus' miracles there's always love.  His heart reaches out, touched by some sorrow of the human race, some tragedy, and he addresses it.  You have only to think about the terror on the face of the men in a sinking fishing boat or the distress on the face of father who's lost his only child or the hoarse croaking of the lepers, begging for help.  His love is what shines behind His every miracle.

And so when we think of the Transfiguration, this miracle of Jesus shining on the mountain top, Moses and Elijah there, and the voice of the Father testifying that Jesus is His Son, we must above all consider what experiencing this miracle meant to the three men who were there to witness it.  What it means to us.

You see, this miracle didn't end simply with Jesus saying:  "Don't tell anyone."  He added:  "Don't tell anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."

Peter, James, and John saw Jesus shine on the mountain.  Not for his own sake, but for theirs and ours.  Get a handle on this and you will love Jesus forever for what He did for us on the Mount of Transfiguration.  The glory that lit up the sky that night is the glory that He came to impart to us.  The glory that shone from his body is the glory he will impart to you, to your body, at the Resurrection!  The glory of His body will that day be your own.

In order for that to transpire, Jesus comes down one mountain and begins to walk toward another.  From Transfiguration to Calvary.  From "This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well-pleased" to "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"  Because you see, that's how Jesus would bring glory to our bodies, rescuing us from death and the steely grip of sin - by trading places with us, by taking our shame, by dying lost and alone.  He dies our death to give us his life.  He bears our shame to give us his glory.  That's how much he loves us!

The three that witnessed the Transfiguration no doubt needed that vision just to get them through the horror of Good Friday.  But can you imagine their joy on Easter?  Their joy when they saw Jesus again, glorified, never to be touched by death again.  When they saw Him as He was then, but that way forever, and when He said:  "Because I live, you too shall live!"  Woah!  The glory they witnessed that night on the mountain was only a teasing taste of the glory that was to be his forever.  And his death and resurrection made that glory his gift to all believers!

That changes everything, my friends.  Above all, it changes how we face our own suffering and death.  Look, Baptism is like our own Transfiguration.  A very old custom of the church calls for the newly baptized to be clothed in garments of white as they come from the font.  That's a way of confessing that Baptism is our Transfiguration.  It's the moment when Jesus grabs hold of us and marks us as co-heirs with him of his glory.  He says:  "You're my family.  You're my sister.  You're my brother.  You will share my glory with me forever."

But after the passing moment of Transfiguration, came the suffering, came the dying.  That's true for Jesus and that's true for us.  The glory that Baptism promises us is a glory that we will not have as our own in this world, in this life.  No.  Our bodies grow old.  They creak.  They begin to wear out.  We face death itself; it looms before us.  And when the thought of death frightens us, and we don't know if we can bear the sufferings that may well precede and go with it, the humiliation and the sorrow, then we understand why Jesus gave us the miracle of the Transfiguration.  In love He shows us what we'll be in the end.  In love He shows us what glory awaits us on the other side of the sufferings and death - yes, even after our bodies have fallen apart and become food for worms, yes, after they've returned to the dust.  He shows us the glory that He has pledged Himself to give us on the day of His own appearing.

The vision of that glory gives us the courage to say to death, as it approaches:  "You pathetic and pitiful little thing.  You can growl and snarl all you want.  You can tear into me and make me cry.  But you can't win in the end, can you?  He lives.  You know who I mean.  And because He lives, I too shall live again.  You know it and it drives you wild with hatred, but there's no help for you.  He's the victor and He's marked me as His own in Baptism and so you can't hold me.  Even this bag of bones will stand before him, glorified and whole and will be singing his praises when you, death, are no more."

What better way for a Christian to face death than with that vision of Jesus, shining on the Mountain top, and knowing that we were looking at a glory that He died and rose again to give us and that most surely awaits us on the other side of the grave?  God give us such courage and such faithfulness!  Amen.

1 comment:

Trent said...

What do you make of the phrase "Now after six days" that start the Mark/Matt narrative? (Luke uses eight days.) Might this be a reference to Moses who was covered in a cloud for six days on Sinai before being called up? Just speculation, but I always thought that specifically mentioning "after six days" was meant to tell us something?

Also interesting that in Matt. Peter calls him 'Lord', in Mark 'Rabbi' and in Luke 'Master'.