Sermon for the Transfiguration of our Lord based on Luke 9:28-36
Dear people for whom Jesus died: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
It’s the last Sunday before Lent. The paraments are white for the Transfiguration of our Lord and we heard about Jesus appearing with Moses and Elijah in His glory to Peter, James, and John. Unlike the infant in the manger, here Jesus appeared dazzling and glorious. Unlike the youth in the Temple who amazed the teachers of the Law with His wisdom while still just looking like a boy, here Jesus appeared in His splendour. The Transfiguration was an awesome and glorious event.
But there’s something ominous and gloomy in the Transfiguration. Leading up to it, Jesus had just told His disciples that He would have to suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and scribes. He told them that He would be killed and on the third day rise again. He told them that if they want to come after Him, they have to pick up their cross daily and follow Him. Then He talked with Moses and Elijah about His upcoming departure – His exodus – His upcoming suffering and death which was about to be accomplished at Jerusalem. Yes, even while shining in glory, Jesus is talking about His death, and the Transfiguration, in addition to being awesome and glorious, is also ominous and gloomy. Death looms over the Transfiguration.
So also today is ominous, as we celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord. We know what’s coming this Wednesday. The white of transfiguration will be replaced with the somber purple of Lent. The cheerful Alleluias will be replaced with penitential hymns. In some traditions ash crosses are put on foreheads with the words, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We head into forty days of humility and repentance, sombreness and sorrow.
But penitential stuff isn’t really our thing. We prefer the joy of Christmas, the joy of the Epiphany, the joy of the Transfiguration. We’re content with the joy and wouldn’t mind skipping over the dark, gloomy stuff.
So also Peter was quite content on the mountain. He didn’t know what to say, but he knew he wanted to remain there instead of returning back to regular life. He didn’t want to go back to carrying his cross; back to the demanding crowds; back to his failures as a disciple of Jesus. In fact, the first thing that happens when they come down from the mountain is a crowd meeting them and wondering why Jesus’ disciples failed to cast out an evil spirit from a little boy. No, forget that stuff. Let’s stay on the mountain away from it all. Let’s build three tents here, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Forget the cross. Forget death.
We can relate. We don’t want a cross either. We don’t want to pick up our cross daily and follow Jesus. But God wants to teach us. After all, on the Mount of Transfiguration, God the Father said concerning Jesus, “Listen to Him.” Listen to Him tell you about His death and resurrection. Listen to Him tell you that His death is for you.
But our sinful flesh doesn’t want to hear Him, so God gives us crosses to bear. Crosses that make us stop relying on ourselves and turn in repentance to Jesus, to listen to Him. God gives us crosses that make us listen to Him teach us those things that we would not listen to when everything is going our way, when our crosses aren’t so heavy. He teaches us that when we are weak, He is strong. It is always He who gets us through everything in our lives, but when things are going well we tend to think that it is because of us and what we have done. The hardships of our crosses remind us that we are always weak and that God is always our strength.
And remember that without the cross of Jesus, there is no joy of Easter. Without death, there is no life. Without Jesus dying to defeat death, we would be doomed to eternal death. That’s why Jesus is talking about His death when He is shining in glory. Because when He’s talking about His death, He is talking about your life.
And this life that He gives to you isn’t just floating around somewhere out there for you to find. It is not to be found in nature, in feelings, in experiences, or in feel-good novels or movies. Life is not to be found in ourselves, our plans to turn away from sin, or our desires to do better. Jesus gives life to you specifically and undeniably in the waters of Holy Baptism. He gives it to specifically and undeniably in Holy Absolution. And He gives it to you specifically and undeniably in His Holy Supper. Jesus gives you life in these sure and certain ways so that you know where life is to be found.
And Jesus doesn’t leave you on your own to bear your cross. Your cross is His cross as surely as His death is your life. He strengthens you in your weakness when you rely on Him instead of yourself.
Listen to Jesus. If He sends you a cross to bear, listen to Him. Bearing our crosses teaches us our real need. It teaches us that we are dust and to dust we will return and that there is no power that can deliver us from death but the power of the crucifixion of the Son of God where he faced our death and destroyed it. Because of Jesus’ death, our death is the gateway to heaven. Because of Jesus’ death, our death is the portal to eternal joy.
We need the Lenten time of humility and repentance, sombreness and sorrow.
We need to hear the dark, gloomy retelling of the exodus of our Saviour – His suffering and death on our behalf. This is what Moses and Elijah spoke about with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, and it is what they preach in their writings in the Old Testament. We need the time of Lent since none of us is able to escape the ashes of this life. None of us is able to escape death and suffering. None of us is able to escape sin.
The time of Lent is a time of listening to Jesus. We add midweek services to provide additional opportunities to listen to Jesus. It is a time of hearing that we were made from dust and to dust we shall return – but also of hearing that we will be raised from the dust to eternal life. It is a time of hearing of the suffering and death of Jesus – but also a time of being in great anticipation of His resurrection.
We see joy and sorrow are not always mutually exclusive. We can have both. We can have joy in sorrow. We can have sorrow in the crosses we need to bear and yet have joy that Jesus has saved us eternally from all of them. We can mourn our sin yet rejoice in the forgiveness of sins in Jesus. We can mourn over the death of Jesus while rejoicing in the life He has given to us. Because His death is our life, and we will receive the glory of His transfiguration because of His death which was accomplished at Jerusalem. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.