Sermon for February 27, 2022

Transfiguration of Our Lord, Luke 9:28-43a

Today is Transfiguration of Our Lord, the Last Sunday after Epiphany, when Jesus appears on the mountaintop in dazzling brightness while conversing with Moses and Elijah, two extraordinarily prominent figures in the Hebrew tradition.

Epiphany has been a season of Sundays, each of which has offered its own epiphanies, its own revelations concerning who Jesus is and what his mission is all about.

None of the epiphanies of these Sundays, however, adds up to the fullness of revelation and complete understanding. Even today with Luke’s recounting of the Transfiguration there is an interplay between revelation and mystery, of seeing clearly and at the same time having sight obscured.

Brightness itself, while clarifying and revealing, can be so bright as to cause of kind of blindness, of not seeing.

Consider Luke’s reporting of the cloud on the Mount of Transfiguration: “a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.” This is an occasion of obscurity; clouds obscure things. But then immediately there’s another clarifying word from on high, echoing the voice at Jesus’ baptism which occurred near the beginning of this season of Sundays, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

Then we go right back to the obscurity of silence. “And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.” Silence is a perfect way to keep things hidden. Thus, we have in Luke’s account the interplay between revelation and ongoing mystery, between clarity and obscurity.

We see this dynamic at play, too, in today’s first reading from Exodus, where Moses returns from his encounter with God, the skin of his face shining with brightness. But then Moses would veil his face before the people to cover the glow.

Still, Sunday after Sunday in the season after Epiphany we have gotten a fuller picture of what God is up to in human history, of God’s interventions with the people of Israel, of God’s work in Jesus of Nazareth.

And that’s true today as well on this Last Sunday after Epiphany. Let’s take a closer look at today’s stories, especially in comparing and contrasting Moses and Jesus after their mountaintop encounters with God.

What Moses reveals, having come down from the mountain after his encounter with God, are the two tablets of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. That’s quite the gift of revelation he brought with him, for the commands serve as the centerpiece of God’s covenant with the people of Israel.

But consider what happens when Jesus comes down from the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus returns to the great crowds, once again taking his place among them as we’ve seen before in Luke’s account. These are the same crowds with whom he was baptized by John, and the same crowds whom he addressed and healed during the Sermon on the Plain. In Luke, Jesus is all about being with the crowds in person, in his flesh, the Word of God made flesh, according to John’s gospel.

Moses returned from the mountaintop to give the law, abstract principles for covenant life. Jesus returns from the mountaintop to offer the gift of his embodied presence that heals the people. Which is to say that Jesus is in himself the embodiment and fulfillment of the law, not just an abstract principle, but word made flesh whose physical touch heals.

This is what happens in Luke’s telling immediately upon the return from the Mount of Transfiguration: Jesus heals the boy violently possessed by spirits, a healing which astounded the crowds, a healing which revealed the greatness of God seen in Jesus Christ.

In this, we glimpse a greater fullness of Christ and what God is up to in Christ.

Now think about this: What were Jesus and Moses and Elijah talking about when they appeared together on the mountaintop? That’s also revelatory. Luke says that “they were speaking of [Jesus’] departure, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.”

Here we have in essence yet another pointing to Jesus’ Passion, his death and resurrection, the culminating and complete revelation of what Christ is all about. Jesus’ departure is coded language for his death and resurrection. We’ve seen such glimpses several times during these Sundays after Epiphany. Now as we soon embark on our Lenten journey to the last days of Jesus’ earthly ministry in Jerusalem – the Three Days of Holy Week – we will have the fullest picture available to us of what God has accomplished in Christ Jesus.

Which is to say, it’s Jesus’ death and resurrection that ultimately make the embodied healings possible that Luke and other gospel writers report. Again, this is no abstract principle of the law – which is not to denigrate the centrality of the law in the Ten Commandments – but it is a fulfillment of that law in the embodied, healing, resurrected presence of Christ.

With that particular vision before us, we don’t have to worry much about obscurity and mystery any longer. Christ dead and Christ raised, that’s the fullness of the revelation. The veil is lifted from our eyes. And in that unveiling in the power of Christ’s death and resurrection, we emerge from the captivity to and the burdens of obscurity in our sin into the full light and brightness and freedom of vision of the gospel.

The apostle Paul says as much in today’s reading from 2 Corinthians. There Paul reports that in Christ the veil that Moses used with the people is set aside. And we who are entrusted to the grace of God in Christ in faith also have the veil lifted from our eyes.

As Paul writes, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Which is to say, not only do we see the fullness of the glory of God in Christ, we participate in that glory. In faith, we become what we see, that is, the image of Christ which is the image of God in the glorious power of the Holy Spirit. In faith, we share in the reality of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

How does this come about? Our transformation comes about through the proclamation of the gospel in word and deed when our faith is generated and renewed. It happens through our baptism into Christ in the name of the Trinity. Our transformation progresses through our sacramental sharing in the body and blood, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. God’s transformative work happens through our becoming and being that body in Christian assembly on this day, the Lord’s Day, week after week, month after month, year after year, from one degree of glory to another.

And then, like Moses coming down from the mountaintop, we leave this place with our faces shining bright with the glow of the presence of God in Christ. Like Jesus we leave this place to return to our version of the crowds, likewise aglow in loving service to those most in need in those crowds.

Through our works of loving mercy of Christ in the Spirit, the world itself, in fits and starts, here and there, begins to be transformed into the image of Christ.

Our sorry world is clouded by fear, and threat and anger and warfare as we are seeing in Ukraine, the frightening implications of which are reverberating throughout the world. How many more crises can our species and all of creation endure?

And yet, our fledgling, loving efforts do, in fact, bring the light of Christ into the terrifying shadows of our world. And as we know a little bit of light, especially that of Christ’s brightness, can go a long way to illuminate the darkest corners.

As Paul writes, “Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart,” even when things seem disheartening and hopeless.

One by one, may people entombed in the shadows of our weary world see the brightness of the light of Christ in our faces. God help us. Amen.