Last Sunday after Epiphany-Transfiguration
January 17th, 2016 A+D
St. Matthew 17:1-9
In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The death of Moses is shrouded in mystery (Deut. 34). At the Lord’s word, he went up on Mt. Nebo, opposite the Jordan River from Jericho, and there God showed him the Promised Land from a distance. He was not permitted to enter into it, but he got a glimpse of it from a high mountain. Then, as the Lord foretold him, he died and was buried by the Lord in a valley in that foreign land, where none of the Israelites were allowed to know the location. This was probably for their good, so that they would not turn his bones or grave into idols or objects of worship.
The end of Elijah’s time on earth is shrouded in more mystery (2 Kings 2). As he and his disciple Elisha walked along on the east side of the Jordan, in the very same region where Moses would have been buried, near Mt. Nebo, God took Elijah to heaven by a miraculous whirlwind so that he did not die but was taken to heaven alive. He was assumed bodily right up into heaven and Elisha witnessed the whole thing.
These two fathers of the faith appeared to Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration. They stood and conversed with Jesus about His exodus, His departure, His death. They stood and spoke about the mystery that would surround Jesus’ death. Not the mystery of Him dying and being buried in an unknown location, not the mystery of Him avoiding death and being taken to heaven by a whirlwind in the sight of His disciples. But the very mystery that God was about to sacrifice Himself for the life of the whole world. This is what Moses and Elijah in their earthly lives awaited. This is truly a mystery beyond miraculous assumptions into heaven. The fact that God would submit Himself to death is beyond mere human comprehension. Only the Holy Spirit could reveal such a mystery.
Moses and Elijah spoke to Jesus about the most important thing in the world, the most important thing that the world would ever be privileged to witness—the death and resurrection of Jesus. There isn’t anything more important to talk about. And maybe, just maybe, this is why Peter wanted to stay there for at least a little while longer. “Lord, it is good that we are here.” Maybe he recognized the gravity of this conversation and what it meant for him and the rest of mankind. Maybe he was holding God’s Word sacred and gladly hearing and learning it. If so, this is where we stand convicted. We have all sorts of topics that we prefer to talk about. Either by absent minded negligence, or by an inability to focus on or think about the most important things, or worse, out of fear of what people might think of us, we talk about any and everything but Jesus’ crucifixion in our families, in our work places, and in our daily lives. The death and resurrection of Jesus is not the first thing on our minds in the morning or the last thing on our minds in the evening. We are preoccupied with many other cares and concerns. Our flesh is weak and our minds are feeble. We are concerned about how people will think of us throughout the day. We are concerned about what we will eat and what will drink, about what we will wear, and who will notice. But due to the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature, we have to struggle to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus for our salvation—it is constant effort. And only then in absent minded prayers, or half-hearted devotions do we contemplate this mystery before our minds are off on something else. It is a result of sin and there is no excuse. There is no reason why we should be too busy, too tired, too hungry, or too preoccupied to meditate upon our Lord’s death and resurrection, to talk about this one thing needful in our daily lives. But our sin does not stop our loving Father from reminding us. The flesh is weak. But thank God the spirit is willing. God imputes His Spirit in us through the Word and through the Sacraments.
We have the testimonies of the patriarchs and prophets, the apostles and evangelists. We have the sure Word of God telling us that God in fact loved the world so much that He entered it as a man to rescue us from sin and death. Despite our ancestor’s hard-heartedness and desire to have ministers of the Word veil their faces and couch their words, we have a God who will not give up. A God that preserved His sure Word in the Holy Scriptures for our comfort, for the giving of His Holy Spirit, and for the strengthening of our faith.
The collect for today gives two reasons why we can address God; 1. that He confirms the mysteries of the faith by the testimony of the inspired fathers (especially Moses and Prophets), and 2. that His voice was heard from the bright cloud, foreshowing our adoption as sons.
This wonderful account of God speaking from the bright cloud is no accidental record. This is a parallel to God speaking from heaven at Jesus’ Baptism. When our Lord took up the mantel of our sins to take them to the cross, God confirmed this with His voice saying that “Jesus was His beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased.” (Matth. 3:17). In the act of Jesus going to the cross to die in your place, God is well pleased. So also on this Mount of Transfiguration, when Jesus is about to turn His face toward Jerusalem, God is well pleased. And when Peter, James, and John look up, they only see Jesus. He is the one person needful. Moses and Elijah—the Law and Prophets—point to Him alone. He is the object of your faith.
While still weighed down with the weaknesses of sin and your flesh, your end is not a mystery. God knows the day and the hour that He will fulfill His promise to you that He made in your Baptism to make you His child and an heir of heaven. You wait in faith for this fulfillment. And even though you struggle to stay focused on the one thing needful, the Lord is constantly strengthening your faith by His Word and Sacraments. That’s why you have the discipline of coming to Church on Sundays. That’s why He exhorts you to prayer, to give offerings, to times of devotion. That’s why you have the salutary habit of receiving His body and blood often. He draws you to this mountain, where you are privileged to hear Moses, Elijah, the prophets, and the evangelists talk about the one thing needful. He draws you into the conversation, and it truly is good to be here. May the Lord keep you faithful in this faith until the end.
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.
The Rev’d Michael N. Frese
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana