Behold the Glory -- A Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday
You may know this chorus from the Messiah, The choir sings boldly:
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed . . .
And all flesh shall see it together . . .
Have you seen the glory of God revealed? If so, where? What was the occasion? And what happened to you as a result?
We’ve talked about mountain top experiences before – those times and places where we feel especially close to God. But as wonderful as they might be, they tend to be short-lived. Once you come down from the mountain, you have to deal with the mundane things of life. The question is – how did your experience change the way you dealt with the mundane? Did you leave God behind on the mountain or did you return knowing that God is present with you?
Moses went up the mountain to meet with God and God gave Moses two tablets containing the Law. These weren’t mere rules and regulations, they were and are the foundation for God’s relationship with the people of God. They describe the covenant that God makes with the people.
When Moses came down from the mountain, his face radiated with light. Because the people in the community didn’t dare come near to him, he decided to put a veil over his face (Exodus 34). But how long did that glow last? According to Paul, Moses kept wearing the veil long after the glow faded (2 Cor. 3:12-4:2), because he was afraid to admit that it was fading. Paul advises us to turn back to the Lord, so that the veil might be removed, and we can behold the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces – just like Moses did on the mountain. Then, we will be transformed into the image of the Lord of Glory. When we do this, then we can live out of the grace of God and pursue the truth of God.
In our reading from Luke’s gospel we once again hear the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus. Today we bring to a close the season of Epiphany, which speaks of the ways God revealed God’s self to us in and through the person of Jesus. We began with the story of a star shining in the night, guiding magi to the home of a young family and their child, who had been proclaimed King of the Jews. Then we celebrated Jesus’ baptism by renewing our own baptismal vows. In that observance, we remembered how God spoke from the midst of the cloud, and said: “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21-22).
Now we go with Jesus and his three companions --Peter, James, and John – up the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus goes there to pray, and as he prays something amazing begins to occur. His face begins to radiate light and his clothes turn a dazzling white. Do you get a sense of the connection with Moses’ experience on Mount Sinai?
Now something else is happening here. The transformation of Jesus’ person reflects an apocalyptic vision that many Jews of that day embraced, where on the Day of the Lord the bodies of God’s people would be transformed and their clothes would turn a dazzling white. You see that picture present in the Book of Revelation. As we stand with Peter, James and John, we get a glimpse of the body we will share when the reign of God comes in its fullness Not only does Jesus’ countenance change, but Moses and Elijah join him in conversation, reminding us of the continuity of Jesus’ ministry with the Judaism represented by Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets.
Take a moment and in your imagination, picture yourself standing on the Mount of Transfiguration? Do you see the glory of God present in Jesus? Do you see in him a sign of your own future?
Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest, and in his new book Immortal Diamond,* he writes about the search for our true self. It’s a search that too often gets obstructed because we become content with our false self. The false self is like the veil that Moses kept wearing long after the glow wore off. The false self is simply the trappings of our ego. These are the expressions of self that are disconnected from God. They are mere costumes or masks, and they’re transitory. They’re not necessarily bad; they’re just diversions.
But the True self, is the recognition that God is present with us and within us. Moses got to experience his true self when he went to the mountain, but unfortunately as time went on he let go of that True Self. The false self is small and narrow. It’s not welcoming or inclusive. And too often when we approach Jesus from that perspective, we try to turn Jesus into a clone of ourselves.
In this scene on the Mount of Transfiguration, we get a glimpse, if only for a moment, of the unveiling of God’s presence in the person of Jesus. For just a moment the veil is lifted and we glimpse the full union of Jesus’ humanity with the presence of God. It’s as if a doorway into heaven is opened, and Jesus is enveloped in the light of God’s heavenly presence. That union between heaven and earth that we pray for each time we share the Lord’s Prayer is made known.
In many ways this event on the mountain is also a foreshadowing of the resurrection. And as we stand with Peter, James, and John watching all of this activity in front of us, do you see your own future, your own destiny. Do you see your own True Self as you experience union with God?
Listen to these words from Richard Rohr concerning the Risen Christ:
The Risen Christ is the standing icon of humanity in its final and full destiny. He is the pledge and guarantee of what God will do with all our crucifixions. At last, we can meaningfully live with hope. It is no longer an absurd or tragic universe. Our hurts now become the home for our greatest hopes. Without much implanted hope, it is very hard not to be cynical, bitter, and tired by the second half of our lives. (P. 84).
As we stand there observing this unveiling of God’s glory present in Jesus, do you find your own sense of hope? Are you ready to experience the healing of the gospel, where we are restored to relationship with God through Christ? This is the message of salvation. This is what it means to be born again, to use the language of the Gospel of John.
Like many of us, Peter, James, and John find it difficult to understand what is happening in front of them. Peter offers to build three shelters or shrines for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Like many of us, when we’re not sure what is happening around us, we distract ourselves with busyness.
At that very moment, a cloud envelopes them. Moses and Elijah leave, and a voice from the cloud declares: “This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to Him.” Once more God makes a claim on Jesus and invites us to pay attention to him. If we want to find our True Self; if we want to experience union with God; if we want to find a hope that lasts, then we must listen for this voice and behold God’s glory that has been revealed in Jesus. Yes, the voice points us to Jesus, the one whose True Self has been unveiled in our midst, because he has the Word we need to hear.
The word Jesus brings is one of love, of grace, of welcome. It’s a message of freedom. Having gone to the mountain with Jesus, we have beheld the Glory of God, and if we are willing to let Jesus pull off the veil, we will see that glory present in our own beings. Then, when we come down from the mountain, having beheld the Glory that is God, and having recognized that glorious presence within our own selves, then love, which is God, will finally win – even over fear and death.
Turning again to Richard Rohr’s message, he writes that the Lenten journey begins on Ash Wednesday with the imposition of ashes on foreheads, which is accompanied by words taken from Genesis 3:19: “Dust you are, and unto dust you shall return.” But that’s just the first part of the message. We should he says, “be anointed (“Christed”) with holy oil on Easter morning” with this message:
Love is always stronger than death, and unto that love you have now returned. (P. 186)
*Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self. (Jossey-Bass, 2013).
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
February 10, 2013