Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

The Transfiguration of Our Lord (C)
February 14, 2010
Text: Luke 9:28-36

Beloved in the Lord: Ascending the Mount of Transfiguration with our Lord and His inner-circle of disciples, we catch a glimpse of the Promised Land. There, our Lord is transfigured before us, manifesting Himself in His heavenly glory. Here, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is the proof that before us stands nothing less than God in human flesh. It is an epiphany, a revelation. Messiah has come, God Himself, to deliver us from sin, death, the devil, and hell. Before us stands God’s beloved and only-begotten Son, His Chosen One. We are to listen to Him. Because His Word alone can bring us life and salvation. His Word alone can preserve us in this fallen world and deliver us from our own fallen flesh. His Word alone can snatch us out of the jaws of hell and the fangs of the devil. We catch this glimpse of the Promised Land, heaven, here on the mountaintop with Peter, John, and James, that we might be strengthened for what lies ahead. For this is only a glimpse, a foretaste of what is to come. Heaven awaits, Easter and resurrection are coming, but not before the cross. Lent is fast upon us. Holy Week and Good Friday are immanent. There is no avoiding Golgotha. But the theologian of glory in every one of us would avoid the cross. The theologian of glory in every one of us would rather stay on the Mount of Transfiguration and bask in the divine glory of the Lord, bask in the presence of the Old Testament saints, Moses and Elijah, stay forever on that mountain where there is no cross.

This is why Peter proposes making three tents. He wants to dwell there on the mountain in the glory of Jesus, with Moses and Elijah as their honored guests. What Peter fails to understand is that the Transfiguration is but a promise of what is to come. And it cannot come without the cross. Peter doesn’t want the cross. He doesn’t like all this talk about suffering and death. And yet, that is the topic of conversation between Jesus and Moses and Elijah. They are discussing Jesus’ “departure,” literally “exodus,” “which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem” (Luke 9: 31; ESV), which is to say, His suffering and death on the cross. This alone accomplishes the salvation of the world. This alone wins the forgiveness of sins for all people. Indeed, in the conversation of Moses and Elijah we get to eavesdrop on what is the content of all the conversation in heaven: Our Lord Jesus and His saving mission; namely, His death and resurrection. This is the content of all the praise of the whole heavenly host, that God gives His only Son into death to save us. Salvation only comes through the cross. Eternal life only comes in the death of the Son of God. This is why Jesus came. In fact, before the Transfiguration, Jesus had told His disciples this very thing: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (v. 22). Death comes before resurrection. It cannot be any other way. And so also the disciples of the Crucified Savior must expect to bear the holy cross, not for their salvation, but simply because they belong to Jesus: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (vv. 23-24). Whoever would stay on the mountaintop and bask in that heavenly glory, avoiding the cross, will lose that glory. But whoever loses the glory, descends the mountain to take up the cross daily and follow Jesus, that person will receive the eternal reward of heaven. For that person will be covered by the blood of Jesus. Faith takes up the cross and follows Jesus. Faith is showered by the blood of Christ. Peter wants to stay on the mountain, but he does not know what he is saying. He is listening to his own words, his own wisdom, human wisdom which considers the cross to be foolishness. And so the Father must correct him, correct us, point us to the only Word that can impart life and true heavenly glory to us, the cruciform Word of Jesus, the Word of the cross. “This is my Son,” declares the Father, “my Chosen One; listen to him!” (v. 35).

Our Lord gives His disciples, gives us this glimpse of His glory for our strengthening and encouragement. He desires to strengthen Peter, John, and James, for the difficult road ahead of them, the road to the events of Holy Week, when the Shepherd is struck and the sheep are scattered (Matt. 26:31). He strengthens them with this foretaste of the resurrection. That is what the Transfiguration is. It is a little sneak-peak at our Lord’s resurrection glory. The Lord will suffer a gruesome death on our behalf, for our salvation. But He will again dwell in glory. Knowing the end of the story fortifies the disciples against despair in the face of the cross. And so also, the Transfiguration of our Lord strengthens us with a foretaste of the resurrection. For we, too, as disciples of Jesus, must bear the holy cross, again, not for our salvation, for the cross of Christ alone is the instrument of our salvation. He has earned it for us. But the disciples is not above his Master. If Jesus had to bear the cross, we should expect to bear the cross, too. For the devil, the world, and even our own sinful flesh, despise the Savior and His disciples. And so there is suffering in this fallen world for the Christian. It is often inexplicable suffering. We often do not know why God allows us to bear certain crosses. But faith confesses that they are for our good. Contrary to human reason, the holy cross is a precious gift. Our gracious God gives us to bear the holy cross as a gift of His love, for in so bearing the cross we are molded and shaped into the image of our Crucified Lord Jesus. But we know the end of the story. We know that the Lord Jesus was not only nailed to the cross for our salvation. He is risen. He dwells now eternally in divine, heavenly splendor, with power and great glory, ruling all things for the benefit of His Church. And we know that He who is risen from the dead will raise us from the dead on the Last Day, and that between now and that Day, when we die, He will take us to heaven to be with Him in perfect bliss. We bear no crosses in heaven. We bear no crosses in the resurrection. Knowing the end of the story fortifies us against despair in the face of our own suffering and cross-bearing.

It is always tempting for this sinful flesh to avoid the cross and suffering, whether it be our Lord’s cross and suffering, or our own. And that is why Lent is so burdensome. Transfiguration Sunday marks the end of the Epiphany Season, the end of the Christmas cycle of the Church Year. This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, and once again we will rend the garments of our hearts in repentance, confess our sins, receive the sign of the holy cross in ashes upon our foreheads, and be reminded that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. This isn’t a pleasant thought. What we are confessing here is that we will die. Our bodies will decay. And this is because of sin. The wages of sin is death. Only Christians can make such a sober confession in confidence, because we know that death is not the end of the story. Because our Lord died for us, we know that we will live, eternally, in Him. Our Lord’s Transfiguration is not just a glimpse of His resurrection glory, it is a glimpse of our own future resurrection glory in Him. Christians, those baptized into Christ, you and I die in the full confidence of the resurrection. And so we can enter the penitential season of Lent knowing its culmination is Easter. We can fast now, knowing the feast is yet to come. We can put away our “alleluias” for a time, knowing we will soon sing them again with gusto. And we can bear the holy cross in this life, carrying around the death of Jesus in our bodies, knowing that glory awaits. It is possible to bear sickness and injury and broken hearts and death itself, all of sin’s consequences, because we know that finally all of these things hold no power over us. Sin and death are defeated in the death of Christ for sin. The Transfiguration is a little glimpse of this victory, which is invisible now to all but the eyes of faith, but will be fully manifest in heaven and in the resurrection.

Of course, we didn’t actually see the Transfiguration, like Peter, John, and James did. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t still a comfort to us. In fact, St. Peter writes that “we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). St. Peter says the Holy Scriptures are more sure than the sight of the Transfiguration, because Peter had to leave the holy mountain, but we can return to the Scriptures again and again. We can live in them. Here we can build a tent and dwell with Jesus. And so dwelling with Jesus in His life-giving Word, we realize that His body is the true Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, the dwelling place of God with men. It is the body of Jesus of which we sang in the Introit: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!” (Ps. 84:1). And so the Father says of the Son, “listen to him,” for in listening to Him, He dwells with us, and we dwell in Him. We listen to Him, to the Chosen Son of God, in Scripture and preaching and Sacrament. And in this way we behold God in the flesh. It is crucified flesh. It is risen flesh. And so we are strengthened to enter upon the road to the cross, the Lenten road, the only road that leads to our own resurrection from the dead and eternal life. Our Lord gives us a glimpse of the Promised Land of heaven and the resurrection in His Transfiguration. This is for our strengthening, as now, for a little while, we bear the cross, until that Day when the glimpse becomes our permanent reality. God strengthen and keep us for that Day. It will surely come. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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