The Transfiguration of Our Lord
In Lutheran congregations that use the historic lectionary, this Sunday is the observation of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, because it is the last Sunday in the Epiphany season. On the three following Sundays we will be observing “pre-Lent,” more on that later this week. At the end of this post, you can read details about the how/why Transfiguration came to be observed at this time in the Epiphany season. Because this observance was not in place during Luther’s lifetime or territory, nor Bach’s a couple hundred years later, I’m afraid I do not have a Luther sermon or Bach Cantata to share with you this day. But I know you will appreciate the sermon for Transfiguration I am able to share here.
The Appointed Readings for Today
The Introit: Ps. 84:1–2a, 4, 10–11; antiphon: Ps. 77:18
The Old Testament Lesson: Ex. 34:29–35
The Psalter: Psalm 2 (antiphon v. 7)
The Epistle Lesson: 2 Peter 1:16–21
The Gospel Lesson: Matt. 17:1–9
The Gradual: Ps. 45:2a, 110:1
The Verse: Ps. 96:2–3
On this day the appointed readings from Scriptures focus our hearts and minds on the great miracle of our Lord’s transfiguration, when he allowed his disciples a glimpse of the glory that is His eternally as the Second Person of the Most Holy and Blessed Trinity, the Son of God. This glimpse of glory was important, for from the mount of Transfiguration, they went back down and our Lord set His face toward Jerusalem, where He would offer, and be offered up, as the atoning sacrifice for the of the world. The Lord appeared to Moses in the light of the burning bush (Ex. 3:1–14). Later Moses’ face would shine with the light of God’s glory when he came down from Mount Sinai (Ex. 34:29–35). At the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appeared with the One who is the Light of Light Himself (Matt. 17:1–9). Jesus’ glory as God shines with brilliant splendor in and through His human nature. By this epiphany, our Lord confirmed the prophetic word (2 Pet. 1:16–21), revealing that He is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. He manifested His majesty as the eternal Son of the Father, and He wonderfully foreshowed our adoption as sons (Collect). We who have been baptized into Christ’s body are given a glimpse of the glory that we will share with Him in the resurrection on the Last Day. Source for some of these notes: LCMS Commission on Worship.
From the liturgy of this day, we will hear:
Your lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook. How lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!… O God in the glorious transfiguration of your beloved Son You confirmed the mysteries of the faith by the testimony of Moses and Elijah. In the voice that came from the bright cloud You wonderfully forshadowed our adoption by grace. Mercifully make us co-heirs with the King in His glory… You are the most handsome of the sons of men… Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous works among all the peoples! Alleluia!… O Wondrous Type! O vision fair Of glory that the Church may share Which Christ upon the mountain shows Where bright than the sun He glows!… It is indeed meet, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who at His transfiguration revealed His glory to His disciples that they might be strengthened to proclaim His cross and resurrection and with all the faithful look forward to the glory of life everlasting… Fulfiller of the past, Promise of things to be, We hail Thy body glorified And our redemption see… Alleluia, song of gladness, voice of joy that cannot die…
Here is a sermon for Transfiguration, by Pastor William Weedon.
Transfiguration is a feast for the eyes and for the ears. What the eyes see is awesome. Jesus suddenly changed. His face, shining like the sun! His clothes, dazzling in their whiteness! Glory beams in bright rays from his body. What the ears hear is the Father’s voice proclaiming this glorified and shining person His beloved Son to whose words we must give our attention. Moses and Elijah, Lawgiver and Prophet, witness to His glory as the Only begotten Son of the Father.
Now, let’s be clear: Jesus didn’t get another body there on the mountain; it was his same Body, the very flesh that he’d received as his own in Blessed Mary’s womb. That’s what glistened and glittered on the mountaintop. It’s very important to remember that, if we are to unlock the full joy of this feast today.
Because, you see, what Peter, James, and John witnessed, what they saw on the mountain, was a glimpse into their own future – and yours and mine too. “Beloved,” wrote St. John to the community of the Baptized, “we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is!” (1 Jn 3:2) “When Christ, who is your life, is revealed” wrote St. Paul, “then you also will be revealed with him in glory!” (Col. 3:4) At the Second Coming of Jesus, all who have lived and died trusting in Him will be raised in bodies that will be like his, shining in glory. That’s exactly what the angel told the prophet Daniel about the last day when those asleep in the dust of the earth awake – some to shame but some to everlasting glory: “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky!” (Dan. 12:3)
So on the Mountain Jesus gives the favored three (and us through them) a glimpse of what his finished work in us will look like! It was a vision meant to comfort and sustain them, to remind them of why Jesus was doing what he was getting ready to do. “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead” he orders, as he leaves one mountain behind and journeys toward another: Mount Calvary.
If the vision on top of the Mount of Transfiguration reveals what Jesus wants to accomplish in us, it is Calvary that reveals how he will do it. He will lift you to his glory by entering into your shame. He will clothe you in his brightness by letting his Father clothe him with your sin. He will gain access to the Father for you as beloved sons and daughters of God by being denied that access Himself – “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” And having accomplished the Father’s will, having suffered for you and died for you, He was raised to life again, clothed once more in the divine glory that He has given you the right to share with Him forever, clothed in a glory that He will never again hide or take off. And in that we are given the pattern of God’s work in our own lives.
You see, your moment of transfiguration happened on the day of your Baptism, when you were clothed with Christ. That, of course, is the day God looked at you and said: “This is my Child! This is the one I love and in whom I am delighted!” That your baptism is your transfiguration is also shown by the gift of the white garment. We don’t do it here at St. Paul- we only give a white napkin – but many churches do actually clothe the newly baptized in a white robe. Your transfiguration robe! A confession that by Baptism into Jesus your life is headed for the everlasting glory He revealed on the mountain.
But after the transfiguration comes the journey to the other Mount. The journey toward death. For the final glorification of our bodies does not happen without death (except for that generation alive at our Lord’s second coming). Suffering and death with Jesus come first; the glorification with Jesus comes afterward. But do you see how the promise of the glorification gives us the courage to face the inevitable deterioration of our bodies?
In our more sane moments we know that we can do nothing to stop our bodies from falling apart. Not the best diet, not the best exercise program in the world, not the finest clothes or the best makeup will be able to prevent the moment arriving when we can’t do some of the things we always took for granted before, because our bodies are simply giving out on us. But when we remember that these decaying bodies of ours have been marked and tagged by the Redeemer with the promise and guarantee of sharing in his Resurrection glory, we can face our own physical demise and, yes, our deaths with a hope that cannot be quenched!
It’s just like St. Paul wrote: “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen, but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens…. So we are always confident.” (2 Cor. 4:16-5:1,6)
And as if the promise of our Father regarding Baptism were not enough, we have our Lord’s promise: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.” (Jn 6:54) As often as that Table is spread before us, Christ strengthens and sustains the inner nature, and comforts us with the promise of the resurrection for the outer nature. What more could we ask?
Transfiguration – the feast of a glory that will be yours and mine! Let us keep our eyes trained on the vision of that future that we may walk unafraid and confident through the valley of death’s shadow, until we stand shining with Christ on the mountain top, singing all the way: O Father, with the Eternal Son and Holy Spirit, three in one, We pray Thee, bring us by Thy grace to see Thy glory face to face. Amen!
Thanks to the Historic Lectionary blog site for this information from the participants:
This scriptural festival (Matt. 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-10; Luke 9:28-36) has been a major festival in the Eastern church since the fourth century, and has been observed in the West since the ninth century. In 1456 John Hunyadi and the great Franciscan preacher, Juan Capistrano, won a great victory over the Turks in a crusade at Belgrade. Capistrano died there of the plague. In token of thanksgiving for the victory, Pope Callixtus III in 1457 assigned the Feast of the Transfiguration its present date of August 6 and made it an ecumenical festival. The date had previously been kept in the East. Because of its scriptural basis, it was retained in the Lutheran calendar, through omitted by the English reformers from the 1549 Prayer Book. In 1561 it was included as a black letter day. It first became a red letter day in the 1892 American Prayer Book, and since has been taken into all Anglican calendars. In Lutheran use, however, there has been a difference of dates. The Church of Sweden has continued August 6, but many German orders of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries adopted the Transfiguration propers for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany. A fixed date festival in August gets scant attention except when it falls on a Sunday, and there was Roman precedent in transferring the Transfiguration propers (cf. the Second Sunday in Lent). The American Common Service Book, following the precedent established by the Church Book, set the Transfiguration propers for the last Sunday after the Epiphany in every year except when there was only one Sunday after the epiphany. There is some merit in this arrangement. The transfiguration was a spectacular manifestation of our Lord, and it was after this incident that Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem. It is, however, a departure from the practice of ecumenical Christianity to neglect the date of August 6 for the festival. The Lutheran Service Book restores the propers to August 6, and repeats them for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany. In years when there are not six Sundays after the Epiphany, the Transfiguration propers may be used on the last Sunday after the Epiphany, except when there is only one Sunday after the Epiphany.
From a book by Reed titled Worship: The Propers (Epistle, Gospel, Collect, et cetera) for the Sundays of this season [Epiphany] refer to the manifestation of the glory of Christ in the areas of nature and of grace. One of the distinctive features of the Lutheran calendar is the permissive use of the Lessons for the Festival of the Transfiguration (August 6) on the Last Sunday in Epiphany. This activates the suggestion of Luther that this would be an appropriate climax and conclusion to the season’s thought. The Lutheran reformers Bugenhagen and Veit Dietrich appointed these Lessons for the Sixth Sunday. The new ‘Service Book’ continues this provision, but, adhering to the earlier American Lutheran precedent in the ‘Church Book’ and the ‘Common Service Book,’ permits (without requirement) the use of these Propers on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany in every year “except when there is only one Sunday after the Epiphany.”