Text: Luke 9:28-36
Date: Transfiguration + 2/10/13
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. For we have heard and we believe that He has come in human flesh, that He continues to come to us now by means of His Word and Sacraments, and that He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead and bring us to the life of the world to come. Today we are given a glimpse, a vision of His glory. But it is given to us to remind us that He entered into His glory only after and through His suffering, death, resurrection and ascension. We are to know that that’s the only way to glory for us too, through suffering to glory. This vision is given to us to encourage and strengthen our faith that we may persevere in hope. Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.
This unusual vision or happening would appear to us and to the world as nothing but a sideshow, another weird miracle merely to entertain us or just to grab our attention. Well that’s why our Lord’s Transfiguration did not happen before the eyes of the world, or even for all of His disciples but only the inner circle of three. And afterward, “they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.” There is no room for a “theology of glory” either with the Lord or with St. Luke. People are not converted and do not become believers simply because they have seen a spectacular show or had some type of “mountain top experience.” Feelings are flighty and emotions tend more to blind than to give insight.
The Transfiguration is for believers, “hearers of the Word,” “catechumens,” the baptized or those who are to receive Baptism. For it has deeper meaning rooted in the Old Testament scriptures. Moses and Elijah, representatives of the Law and the Prophets, appear speaking with Jesus. They spoke with Jesus about “his departure,” His “exodus,” “which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” That defining event at the beginning of salvation history, the Exodus from Egypt, was “remembered” at every Passover through the ages. And it wasn’t merely “remembered” as a past event of history but remembered in such a way—we might even say a sacramental way!—that every generation could and would confess that there “God delivered ME from slavery.” Now was to be the last Passover, the ultimate Passover, that which the original event predicted, namely God’s deliverance of all people, every nation, from the ancient slavery of sin and death.
We’ll skip over Peter’s enthusiastic but ignorant reaction at the sight because the most important feature was, as he was still blathering on, “a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.” What was the significance, the meaning of the cloud?
Again, salvation history provides the answer. We read in Exodus 13, “When Pharaoh let the people go…God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. …And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people” (Ex 13:17-22). When Pharaoh, his chariots and horsemen changed their mind and pursued the people, “Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night” (Ex 14:19-20).
Later, as they were journeying, we read that “Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise up, and each would stand at his tent door, and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex 33:7-11).
The cloud in the Old Testament history of salvation not only signified but was the very presence of the God of the universe, the God of salvation. The cloud, that is God Himself, was on Mt. Sinai at the giving of the Ten Commandments (Ex 19:16). The cloud, that is God Himself, “covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. …Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys” (Ex 40:34-38). Later, when Solomon had built the temple, at the dedication, “when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:10-11). So also as this cloud came at the Transfiguration and overshadowed them, St. Luke wishes us to recall that word spoken by the angel to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy— the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The overshadowing presence of God speaks to both the incarnation and the exaltation of Jesus.
Today God’s Word and Sacraments, and the liturgy are as this cloud, for here “God Himself is present,” as the words of Habakkuk the prophet have it, “the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Hab 2:20).
And there was a voice, and there still is a voice that says of Jesus, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” To “listen” to Jesus is to be His disciple, a learner, a hearer of the Word. As long as you are hearing, as He said it, “If you continue in my Word,” you are His disciples. If you cease hearing, for whatever reason, you are in danger of fall-ing away. The ancient creed of the Old Testament, the “Shama Israel,” translated, “Hear O Israel,” is as much as to say, “Believe O Israel.” For to hear is to believe.
If we listen in faith to Jesus and to St. Luke, we are to learn that the order of the Kingdom for us is suffering before glory, just as it was for our Lord who said after His resurrection, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26). Yes. Yes it was necessary. And yes it is for us who in Holy Baptism have died with Christ, who now live with Him in faith, hope and love with the promise:
What joy to know, when life is past,
The Lord we love is first and last,
The end and the beginning!
He will one day, oh, glorious grace,
Transport us to that happy place
Beyond all tears and sinning!
Come, Lord Jesus!
Crown of gladness!
We are yearning
For the day of Your returning! (LSB 395:6)