February 11, 2018: Transfiguration Sunday

Let us pray: Dear Savior, what a comfort it is to know that You and Your unseen reality are just a hair’s breath away from us!  When we feel very vulnerable and confused by the ravages of life, remind us of the truth of Your transfiguration. For then our strength will be made perfect, even in our weakness.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUT GLORIOUS LORD!

TEXT:  Matthew 17: 1-9

Dearly Beloved By Christ:  

Hopeless and helpless—it’s awful to find yourself trapped by those emotions.  Think of flood victims watching the waters rise and being powerless to stop them.  Think of those poor folks who endured the CA wildfires, watching the flames advance on all sides and no giant tanker planes coming to their rescue.  Think of the doctor’s office visit where the medical staff informs you that you’ve got terminal cancer. Think of the poor wife whose husband blindsided her and left the marriage for another woman.  

Hopelessness and helplessness go hand-in-hand.  They leave emotional scars that literally last a lifetime.  Yes, people cope, as best they can. People so wounded get through each day.  They still eat, sleep, and go off to work. But inwardly, they are numb. Life holds little or no joy.  They are full of anger, confusion, revenge, and often just plain empty. It’s no way to live.

I

Every year as we enter Lent, we stand on the brink of hopelessness and helplessness.  To see our Lord suffer so acutely; to see Him sweat drops of blood; to see Him on a cross splayed out to die—we feel hopeless and helpless.  His agony is a macrocosm of the conflicting emotions we feel, isn’t it? And that’s why, every year on the Sunday before Lent begins, the Church focuses on the Transfiguration.  It’s God’s antidote to hopeless and helplessness. And just as those same disciples who witnessed it a few weeks before Christ’s passion were sustained by the Transfiguration during His Passion, so are we.  It was His way of providing them advance comfort in the midst of severe trials, and it still functions in the same way for us as we struggle with life’s devastating bad news.

II

The facts of what happened on that mountain are stunning.  Jesus takes with Him the “Big Three” of disciples: Peter, James and John.  They laboriously climb up that mountain, although only Christ knows why. Upon reaching the summit, Jesus suddenly sheds the cocoon of His human shell and reveals the eternal glory of God which that shell has hidden  from their view. He shines like lightning. Their eyes are blinded by His brilliance. And just as suddenly those OT heroes of faith, Moses and Elijah, appear next to Jesus. I find it interesting that the disciples knew immediately who they were, although no introductions are ever mentioned.  Nonetheless, they looked at those departed heroes, saw their facial features, and were rendered speechless by it all. Luke tells us some of what they were discussing with Christ. But even if he didn’t, I think we can all figure it out. It was the details of His coming Passion and resurrection.  It was the truth they had prophesied and preached during their lives. It was the truth of how God’s Son would save fallen sinners through loving forgiveness won on the cross. It was the amazing truth of grace alone through faith alone.

Impetuous Peter is overwhelmed by it all.  This is all so far removed from earthly reality and the stresses of it and all so wonderful that he wants it to last forever!  So, he blurts out that silly comment about building three little huts for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah in order to prolong this moment of pure bliss.  It is at that moment, with all thoughts of hopelessness or helplessness banished from their minds, that God the Father envelopes the mountaintop and booms out those blessed words: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; listen to Him!”  Is there any more sublime and awesome moment in the history of the universe? The disciples are struck down and fall into the dirt. We’re told they were: “Terrified.” In other words, they felt completely helpless and hopeless when it came to the contrast between their sinful condition and God’s glory.  

But then they come to with Jesus’ comforting words: “Don’t be afraid.”  There is pure gospel. There is Godly comfort. There is supreme hopefulness and total helpfulness!  They look around and the cocoon of humanity once again covers Christ and Moses and Elijah are gone from their sight.  Reluctantly they leave.

III

Do you think these three men ever thought back on any of this during the dark days of that first Lent?  Did thoughts about the Transfiguration cause Peter to weep even more after he denied His Lord? Well, we know from Peter’s later epistles that this episode comforted him and gave him tremendous courage in the face of severe persecution and death.  After all, doesn’t Peter remind us that: “We did not follow cleverly invented stories about Jesus, but we were eyewitnesses to His majesty when we were with Him on that holy mountain.”

Yes, the transfiguration is God’s antidote to hopelessness and helplessness.  For it reveals reality that is truly real! It shows us that God and heaven and the saints—all that is only a hair’s breath away from us right now.  This life and the body we inhabit is only a shell containing our eternal soul. In Christ, that soul is renewed and joined with Him. Through faith it glows like lightning, too.  Through faith we become, He makes us, a part of His collective glory. I’m reminded of that passage by St. Paul: “I consider our present sufferings not worth comparing to the glory that is about to be revealed.”  

My friends, this is exactly why as Christians we never give up and we never give in to the ravages of sin.  Glory awaits. Glory is so close you can almost touch it. And that glory is so sublime that helplessness and hopelessness will be remembered no more—forever.  Amen