…and a voice came out of the cloud, “this is my beloved son; listen to him.”
Our goal is to see Christ in His glory. We are given the gift of having that vision with us now so we can be prepared for heaven and inspired on the way.
There are many of us who, at some points in our lives, may look for a reason to go on. The need may be a goal to pursue or more seriously a reason to exist. One of the blessings of the Christian religion is that it provides both of these. We are blessed by the Christian religion to receive reasons to exist, goals to pursue and achieve, and reasons to go on through our earthly lives. There is a double blessing in that we are not only given reasons to exist, but to continue through our lives with a sense of joy, encouragement and peace.
On more than one occasion these topics have come up when I have visited parishioners, friends, and even relatives. The question of the reason God has us here, or why he allows us to continue here under trying circumstances, or what goal or purpose does God have for me, are common questions and concerns, if they are allowed to be raised. Let’s face it, both the marginal Christian and the faithful, practicing Christian usually do not want to admit they are asking these questions to themselves. If they hesitate to admit that they are wondering about these questions, then they certainly will not talk about them freely. Think of the eighty or ninety-year-old nearing the end of an earthly life. Consider someone seriously ill with a terminal disease; both of these persons have been lifelong Christians. For them contemplating questions of why God continues to have them here is at least embarrassing, may be seen as a sign of weakness, or at worst an admission that their practice and belief of the Christian faith has been in vain.
I had this conversation with my father two years before he died. At the time he was recovering from a stroke and knew that his life was taking on a significant change, and the prospect of living this different existence was not at all attractive. He could not figure out what God had in mind. He did not seem to see any more purpose in his life here. He needed some reason to exist. He needed some purpose to go on, and not go on just to exist, but a positive, purposeful move in the future. This is not unusual, given his state in life. These kinds of questions and concerns lie just under the surface and will come up to the surface very easily if we give persons social and emotional “permission” to talk about them.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ has all the answers. So it should provide answers to those of us asking these questions or concerns about God’s purpose for our lives. I think His Gospel answers these difficult questions about existence, purpose, and goals for our life. The more I read about, and think about, the Transfiguration, the more I realize how powerful it is and what an inspiration it is. Think about the portions of the Bible our Office and Eucharistic lectionaries have presented to us since Christmas. We have spent our time since Christmas in the Epiphany Season. According to the church’s reading of Holy Scripture, that time is to be spent listening about the ways Jesus is shown to be the Savior of the World. We have heard the miracles. We have heard what God proclaims about Jesus and finally today we hear the testimony of how Jesus was indeed revealed as the Son of God at the Transfiguration. We have learned who Jesus really is. “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.”
That is what Epiphany or “showing forth” is all about; showing forth who Jesus is. We learn that he is the Son of God, not just another nice man. We learn that he is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. He is the living law that was established in the Old Testament and He is everything the prophets proclaimed. Prophecy in both the Old and New Testaments is often thought of as predicting the future. The prophets at times are mistakenly thought of as kinds of glorified fortune tellers. Some think the prophets just say what God is going to make happen. That is only the partial truth about prophecy.
Prophecy has to do with interpreting events in the present as well. The prophecy that we heard last week from Simeon and Anna, so nicely proclaimed and explained by Father Hanson, was setting forth what God is up to in the present. Knowing that they had seen the Christ because they had seen the Baby Jesus, is a case in point. Simeon and Anna were not predicting the future. They were saying what God was telling them to say at that moment. They were prophets and God was speaking through them at that moment. The prophecy of Christ coming was fulfilled in Jesus.
This kind of prophecy is heard today on top of the Mount of the Transfiguration; we see the clear Word of God from God Himself. Jesus is wonderfully transfigured and appears with Moses and Elijah. Then God speaks directly to Peter, James and John and declares, “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him.” It is quite wonderful, I think, because there is no guessing. The direct word of God is sufficient. Peter and James and John had little doubt that they had seen and heard the Truth on the top of that mountain.
What an inspiration it must have been to Peter, James and John to have the privilege of seeing Jesus in all His glory. How reassuring it must have been for their belief. They were able to see Christ as He truly is. They saw Him being certified as what He said He is, “The only Son of God.” No matter how much we are told that Christ is King. No matter how many times we read the Bible and hear the Word of God. No matter how long we have been Christians, we can still have doubts. When an event happens like the Transfiguration, you can bet that it goes a long way to remove, or at least relieve some doubt. Peter and James and John must have had all their doubts and uncertainties done away, for at least a moment, when they witnessed the transfiguration on top of the mount. But they have to keep this to themselves. There is more God will accomplish in His Son and that will be revealed in Holy Week.
Have you ever had a moment of reassurance like the Transfiguration? I hope you have. Your glimpse of Christ’s Glory does not have to be as dramatic as the Transfiguration. It would be good if it could be. I would like that. But maybe you have had times when, because of an event, large or small, you have come to the conclusion, “Yes, it all makes sense.” You say to yourself, “There is actually something to this Christian religion, and everything is going to be all right, and I’m on the right track.” These moments or events are little embryonic epiphanies or tiny transfigurations. They don’t have to be dramatic, but even the small events, when you realize they are glimpses of Christ’s Glory, can be very powerful and help fulfill or strengthen our spiritual lives.
We need this vision of Christ’s Glory now, as we begin our Lenten journey this Wednesday. The vision of the Transfiguration serves two purposes for us, placed as it is as our last vision of Christ before Lent. The immediate purpose is to encourage us through the forty days of Lent. It will not, and should not, be easy for us as we take on our Lenten practices and disciplines. Keeping the transfigured Christ before us as the ultimate vision and goal can encourage us through Lent and Holy Week. Remember that we grow in holiness through Lent and Holy Week and in some way have the vision of the Transfiguration come more into focus.
The second purpose of the Transfiguration can be to give us the goal, the purpose, the vision for our whole lives. Yes; Peter, James and John were encouraged and found the vision so desirable that they wanted to stay and hold the vision. They could not stay. They needed to come back down the mountain and continue their lives, even as we need to continue our lives and fulfill the purposes of our lives. We continue them with the knowledge that growing closer to Jesus all through our earthly lives is a purpose. The goal is to see Him even as He is seen at the top of the Mount of the Transfiguration; what an encouragement and what a joy.
The reaction of Peter to the Transfiguration, we find out in his second letter, is that he had the prophecy of the Word of God “made more sure.” He had the Word of God given to him on top of that mountain and he says he knows it is true because he says, “we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain.” The prophecy he knew of the Christ was “made more sure” because he saw it and heard it with his own eyes and ears. No interpretation was necessary because the Holy Spirit, at one with the Father and the Son gave them the word directly.
For us, on this Last Sunday after The Epiphany, we learn that if we want to know what God has to say to us, either as individuals or as a church, we have to go to Him. Remember, that Elijah had to go to Mount Horeb to hear what God had to say to him. Peter, James and John had to go to the top of the mountain to hear and see clearly that Jesus is the Law and the Prophets. We bring ourselves to God in humility. And sometimes it is not easy. It is not easy to go up a mountain and admit that maybe God knows better for us, than we know for ourselves. But that is all right. It may take quite a struggle to get to God. It may take a little mountain climbing, but be assured He will be there to speak to you just as He spoke to Moses, Elijah, Peter, James and John. So go to God even if it is hard to go to Him, or especially when it is hard to go Him.
Find out what He has to say to you. Avail yourselves of the Holy Scriptures. Go to the Bible regularly and often. When you go to the Bible, you are going to the very Word of God. Approach it with the faithful attitude that it indeed does have something to say to you and you need to know what that is. Go to Holy Scripture in faith and obedience. The Lenten program Father Warren has prescribed for our whole parish is an excellent way to do just that. It is “A Lenten Journey for The Church of The Advent”. Daily take on the reading of Scripture. Practice disciplines of self-control. Learn more about how God is alive and active in your life to lead you to holiness.
The Transfiguration means that like Peter, James and John, we need to follow Jesus in faith and obedience just like we go to the Bible. Go with the Word of God incarnate in Holy Communion, just as you go to the Word of God written in the Bible. Remain faithful to him because he is all law, all prophecy, all Truth. Stay with Him through very sad times in your life as well as the happy times. Stay faithful to Him through the difficult times as well as the easy times. The whole point is to find the Truth and the only place to find that is to climb up the mountain all through this life knowing that the reason for the climb is Jesus and once you get to the top you will see him just as Peter, James and John saw Him. He was in his glorious majesty on the Mount of the Transfiguration. He is glorious with us now in our hearts and souls to lead us through this earthly life, and we will see Him in all His glorious majesty in heaven.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.