Sermon delivered at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, Perkasie, PA
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
I like to imagine that these events, according to Luke, took place at night. Walking up this hill—this mountain—at dusk, Jesus stopped and sits on the ground. He begins to pray, silently. The night insects are chirping. Did you hear how Peter, James and John are weighed down with sleep as they pray too? And then Jesus lights up that dusty mountain top… somehow.
And listen to the story of Moses, himself on a mountain, speaking with God. Maybe it was the evening too when Moses came down. Grimed with dirt and sweat, still, his face was lit up—it was glowing! Moses’ skin shone with God’s light.
Very importantly, listen: how Moses had to cover himself to avoid terrifying the People. They did not like this light.
Aren’t these such vivid images and compelling stories? These are what we have today on this “Transfiguration of Our Lord” Sunday, our fascinating and psychedelic festival day! Glowing faces, transformations, descending clouds, and the removing of veils!
A day when we commemorate a moment when Jesus’ appearance changes, when we recall that Moses’ appearance changed too, a day when we remember that, in Christ, all veils between us and God are removed. And that this hopeful light of Christ is ours to see—to see everywhere.
That word, “transfiguration,” is not one we use very often. As some of you might know,
in Greek the word is actually, literally, “metamorphosis.” That word we know better. We think of caterpillars and butterflies. And that’s a good place to start—a transformation. So, this Metamorphosis Day (we should call it) is the climax of the Epiphany season, that season of Sundays that follow quickly after Christmas…
And on January 6th, if you were with us, you might remember: I shared with you a little about Epiphany. Both the Church season and the word. Now, that word might be one we use a little more often. We say, I was driving in my car (or some other place) and I had a realization—I had an epiphany. And that’s one meaning of Epiphany. But originally it meant something like: a showing forth, coming into light, or an appearance of something.
So, as Luke writes it: “And while Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling….” I guess that’s a real epiphany: a showing forth and coming into light. And the appearance, too, of Moses and Elijah next to him. These two great figures of Prophecy and the Old Covenant with God, and they are in relationship with Jesus, somehow. We are told they were discussing the events to come, in Jerusalem… and Jesus’ departure.
You’ll notice our Gospel lesson from Luke begins like this: “Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.” So, what are “these sayings”?
Jesus had said this, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected… and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” So, Jesus’ face is set toward what must come to pass, Toward what will happen in Jerusalem. He must be killed and buried.
Yes, Transfiguration Sunday, Our Metamorphosis Day, is also a hinge day. And the door of Christmas, the door of joy and light, swings closed. And, as the People of God, we walk the path leading to the Cross.
That is the deep, deep meaning of this Epiphany: this great light of God, this much anticipated Savior: Who, in Luke, has certainly been healing and curing… who, all near him hoped, would cleanse Israel of its oppressors… who just might cast out the occupying forces of Rome… who, maybe, could bring about a religious revival… who seemed to promise victory for the in-group…
Well, this Savior is fragile. This God doesn’t fight back like we think he should. This Jesus empties out everything in himself to us and for us. And the final Epiphany, of course, the final showing, is both his sorrowful death, and his mysterious rising again. So, there, on the mountain-top, clothed in dazzling light, Jesus discussed his “departure.”
Now, that glow-in-the-dark Moses story, that first transformation story we heard today, though it might seem awfully… weird! It is also key. St. Paul think’s its important, too. Important enough to comment on.
And we too remember this other story. On this Metamorphosis Sunday we celebrate not only what the disciples saw in Jesus on the mountain: but we celebrate that we all share this light, this glow of Moses, this dazzling energy of Christ, is ours. Into us this light shines.
In this light is the knowledge that God the Father is in a relationship with God the Son: indeed, the voice says, “This is my chosen one, listen to Jesus.” In this light, too, is the relationship between us and God. This is what Paul calls the Holy Spirit. And there is no longer fear about all this… all of this glow. That veil of fear is removed. Remember today that you are transformed along with Christ.
Paul writes, “And all of us, with unveiled faces… are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”
Paul is a very clever writer—a very clever reader of the Bible too. He’s interpreting Moses and this strange veil story. He’s talking about that sense of separation between you and God—that fearful sense of duty or doom of the Old Covenant, in Christ that separation has been transfigured.
God is close to you now.
Every beam of every headlight you see on the road tonight, all in a row like pearls on a necklace—they are the same light as the dazzling appearance of Christ. Or the glint of sunlight on your kitchen window, the reflected glow on the melting snow… we can know they, too, and all of creation is in the light of God.
God is close by to us now. Do not let the veil of worry, the veil of holding-on, the veil of selfishness dim your sight. When we are transformed by Christ, we know that God is in everything. God is as near as your own breath or the laughter of your neighbors’ children.
But, still, like I said, this Transformation Story is a hinge into Lent. It is still night on the top of Jesus’ mountain. Yes, in this beautiful Epiphany, in this light of Metamorphosis, there is gathered also the sadness of Jesus’ suffering and rejection. And the confusion too we have about our own losses.
Maybe that’s what the Israelites saw in Moses’ glow. Maybe that’s why they were afraid. Remember God speaks from an overshadowing and a terrifying cloud.
All is gathered into the Light of Christ. We believe that God can metamorphosize these painful things.
Have hope that your pain, too, is gathered into this light. Because with all of these they are part of Jesus’ dazzling light: the power and the majesty; the connection with history and the Old Covenant; the closeness with God; and also the pain and rejection are part of that light—the confusion and the self-emptying of Jesus on the cross. All these are part of God, somehow.
Do not be fearful, do not put up veils of separation any longer. Remember with every ordinary bright light you see this week. Remember that we, too, are transformed by the dazzling light of hope. You all also have glowing faces like Moses, because in Christ you have seen and you have talked with God.