03 February 2020

Homily for Transfiguration (2020)

"A Glimpse of Glory"
Matthew 17:1-9

We really don’t know what Jesus looked like when He walked the earth. The Bible itself does not give us specific details about Jesus’ appearance. Of course there were no photographs or selfies, and no one ever painted a portrait of Jesus before He ascended. Images we have are really just artist’s renderings.

But we do know this. When He walked the face of this earth, the Son of God humbled Himself and became a man. He did not fully use His divine powers and prerogatives. He lived just like any other human being. And His appearance was probably nothing special, just like any other Middle Eastern young man from Galilee. As Isaiah said, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him” (53:2).

Today, though, we get a glimpse of Jesus in glory. Today we celebrate the Transfiguration of Our Lord—when Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on a high mountain. There His appearance was changed; He was transfigured, had a metamorphosis, before them. Matthew says, “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light” (17:2). Mark says, “His clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them” (9:3). And Luke says, “The appearance of His face was altered, and His clothing became dazzling white” (9:29).

For those moments on that mountain, Jesus radiated in all of His divine splendor and glory. On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus gave us a sample of the glory we share with Him both now and into eternity. In the Transfiguration of Our Lord, we have a glimpse of the glory that our Lord graciously shares with us. Four things come out of our text.

First, we see and learn that there’s only one way to share in the glory of heaven. We do not share in the glory of heaven because we are good persons. We know we’re not! St. Paul writes in Romans: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one…. [T]here is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:10-12, 22). No, we don’t and won’t share in heaven’s glory because we’ve earned it, been obedient, or done the right things through life. We cannot earn it, our obedience ever falters, and we certainly do not deserve it.

When we listen to our Gospel reading, we hear the one way—the only way—we will share in the glory of heaven: “Jesus TOOK with him Peter and James, and John.”  Jesus also tells us, “I am the way.” He is the way to heaven. Jesus is your way to heaven. Just as Jesus took Peter, James, and John to share some moments of glory on the mountain, He will take you to share an eternity of never-ending glory with Him. Jesus promises, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In my Father’s house are many rooms…. I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Jesus will take you to be with Him in heaven. Why? Because He loves you, because He forgives you, because He gave Himself for you to atone for your sins, because He revealed His love for you most supremely on the cross.

Here’s the second thing. In the Transfiguration of Jesus we also see the glorified bodies we will have. Jesus was transfigured. For a brief time He was shining with heavenly glory, not as a reflection, not with a giant light shining on Him, but as the very source—He Himself—of that brilliant glory. So it will be for all who trust in Jesus. All who trust Him and all who rest in Him will be raised again on the Last Day. Your physical bodies will be made alive again and transfigured into glorious, heavenly bodies. St. Paul writes in Philippians (3:21): “[He] will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body.” In 1 Corinthians, he says: “I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (15:51-52).

But our Lord does not wait until the Last Day to transfigure us. He also transforms us now through His forgiveness and mercy. When we hear the Gospel of Jesus proclaimed, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). Even today in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood our Lord works to transform our bodies to be like His glorious body. And this transformation from sinner to saint, from rebel to redeemed, is intended to show forth in the world. As St. Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).

Here’s a third thing we take from our Lord’s Transfiguration: all the faithful from all the ages will join us. Just as Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus and spoke with Him, so also in heaven a great, countless multitude of believers will gather around the throne of God, and you will gather there too. Put yourself in that scene of the great multitude gathered around Jesus on His throne. You will be there with Moses, Elijah, and all the other believers of the Old Testament, with Peter, James, John and all the New Testament saints, as well as all believers in Christ through the ages of the Church.

And it’s a motley bunch really. I mean look what we have before us today: murdering Moses, whining Elijah, impetuous, foot-in-his-mouth Peter, and power-hungry, photo-op-seeking James and John, who wanted their self-chosen brand of glory at Jesus’ right and left hands. But it’s a motley bunch that lives by the glorious grace of God in Christ Jesus. Let’s also look at ourselves in the mirror. We are the worry-wart-Wandas, the hand-wringing-Harries. We are the complaining Cathies, the grousing Guses, the slandering Sams and Sallies. We seek our brand of glory without suffering, especially without suffering the loss of our self-serving. But we’re still the motley bunch that’s saved by Jesus’ suffering, delivered by His death on a cross, and glorified by His glorious resurrection. Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus about His “exodus,” that is, His journey into the suffering, onto the cross and out from the empty tomb. His exodus is our exodus. He leads us through suffering and death and, especially on the Last Day, He brings us to glory, glory shared with all the faithful from all ages.

Finally, we learn from our Lord’s Transfiguration that heaven with Him will be a wonderful place. Sometimes people joke that heaven might get a bit boring, or that eternity might grow tiresome. But for a few short moments on the Mount of Transfiguration Peter, James, and John got a small sample of heaven, a glimpse of glory. And they did not want it to end! “Lord, it is good that we are here,” Peter exclaimed.

How could it possibly be boring to gather with all the saints around the throne of our Savior God? How could we possibly grow tired of worshiping and receiving from our Savior who loves us enough to suffer and die for us? And besides that, who says it will be stagnant or static? We will have a whole eternity to keep growing as God’s children, to keep enjoying His boundless, infinite gifts of love and life in His new creation. We will proclaim, like Peter, “Lord, it is good that we are here.” We will get to revel and rejoice in the glorious bliss of our heavenly home, replete with unending joy and perfect peace. As Isaiah says, “The ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (35:10).

Jesus’ Transfiguration gives us a glimpse of our glory in Him. As He took the disciples up the mountain, He’ll take us to eternity with Him. As He was transformed, so He also transforms us, both now and on the Last Day. We will get to spend eternity with motley but forgiven sinners like us. Yes, it will be good to be with our Lord Jesus for all eternity. Amen.

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