Date: The Transfiguration of Our Lord – February 7, 2016
Texts: Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Psalm 99; Hebrews 3:1-6; Luke 9:28-36
Context: The Armenian Church observes Transfiguration Sunday on August 6. Their observance (if not the date) goes back to at least the 7th century, where Bishop Gregory Arsharuni credits the observance to St. Gregory the Illuminator in the early 4th century. The Western Church doesn’t adopt the observance formally until the 10th century.
Christmas emphasized Jesus’ humanity, Epiphany emphasized his divinity, and the Feast of the Transfiguration brings these two realities together in a single moment. We face the mystery of God made man, divinity encapsulated in humanity, humanity brought into divinity. As with the other great mysteries of the faith, the dual-nature of Jesus is something it is difficult to talk about very long without straying into heresey of one form or another. Yet on the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus grants his inner circle a glimpse at these two realities, and they convey this experience to you and I. What we cannot explain we trust. We need to trust these twin realities – Jesus is both fully human and fully divine – as we journey with him for the last time to Jerusalem, as we watch him offer himself to death and burial and resurrection. Those events occur within the context of the Transfiguration; it is the two natures of Christ that ensure that his death on our behalf is real, and his resurrection truly can offer us a glimpse and promise of life everlasting.
Deuteronomy 34:1-12 – Mountains are important places in Scripture, frequently the site of significant encounters between God and man. Abraham is saved from sacrificing Isaac on a mountain. Moses meets with God to receive the covenant on Mt. Sinai. And now, at the end of Moses’ life, he shares one more mountaintop encounter with God, by which he is miraculously able to perceive all of the promised land. Here God reveals his promise to Moses – the land that his people will enter. The land remains – the promise remains – for the people to receive, but Moses’ work is finished.
Psalm 99 – This psalm begins with the proclamation, the assertion that the Lord reigns, the Lord functions as a heavenly king, and the psalm explains the ramifications of this. The first three verses describe the power of God – angels are his throne, He is greatly exalted over Zion, the heavenly city, and all people should give praise to the awesome power of God, culminating in the declaration of holiness. But it isn’t simply his power that should be cause for praise. His attributes are extolled in verse 4, leading to another call to praise in verse 5 and another assertion of holiness. Verses 6-8 discuss some of the famous figures of the Old Testament and their relationship to God. Moses and Aaron serving as priests, and Samuel as the great prophet who anoints first Saul and then David as king. They are lifted up as models of faithfulness, and God is praised for his responsiveness to them. He forgave them but also judged them fairly, hearkening back to verse 4. Praise is once again enjoined in verse 9, where the figure of the mountain – a symbol for the presence of the Lord – is invoked.
Hebrews 3:1-6 – Paul’s introductory words set the stage for the section of verses to follow, verses which elevate Jesus above Moses. Jesus is both apostle and High Priest, denoting Jesus’ twin roles – God the Father’s representative to mankind, and mankind’s representative to God the Father. Moses functioned in both roles as well, but only as a servant. But Jesus is more than just a servant, He is the very Son of God, the perfect and final emissary of God the Father to creation, and more than this, our great advocate before God the Father. Moses served in the house, but Jesus is Lord over the house.
As such, Jesus has received the greater glory – as is fitting! Moses died and was accorded the honor of nobody knowing where his grave is. Jesus dies but is raised to life again before ascending visibly to heaven. As God’s Old Testament people were faithful as a household in obedience to the Mosaic covenant, so we in Christ as the new household are faithful when we hold fast in faith to the promise of Christ – that we too shall live again.
Luke 9:28-36 – Jesus reveals his glory to Peter, James, and John. They are nearly asleep, yet when they see his glory they are awake. Peter tries to find something meaningful to say but God the Father interrupts him. The disciples have not understood Jesus, they have been asleep to his reality, but when they see him in their glory, they are suddenly awakened, aware of his power and glory and majesty. Peter would be at home in our age of status updates and tweets and book deals and podcasts. We constantly try to fill the air and the ears around us with our voice, with our thoughts, asserting our intelligence or worthiness. But the Word of God cuts through all of our voices. Nothing we say matters. Nothing we do matters. Our ideas are ultimately pale and worthless. What matters is the Son of God who comes into creation on our behalf to suffer and die to reconcile us to God the Father. Nothing can matter more to God the Father than this – the beauty and glory and worthiness of his Son.
God the Father loves us – He created us! We respond to his gifts in prayer and praise and this is appropriate but nothing is more pleasing to him than his obedient Son who restores proper relationship between God the Father and creation. Peter doesn’t need to say anything – there’s nothing to say. What Peter really needs is to listen to the Son. To fix all of his being and attention on the Son. To what He says and to what He does. Jesus has been chosen for this task. The Son of God has been appointed from eternity for it and the moment of fulfilment is at hand! What a lesson for you and I when we seek to offer our apologies and our explanations and our justifications to our God. Instead, we should fix our hope and our attention on Christ, trusting that He has said and done everything necessary, and there is nothing left for us to add.
Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand.
Ponder nothing earthly minded
For with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descending,
Comes our homage to demand!