Sunday, January 20, 2013

Don’t Stay on the Mountain

The Transfiguration of Our Lord
January 20, 2013
There were only three of them. He might have taken all twelve of His disciples. But He chose only three. He might have invited the crowds who had heard Him on the Sermon on the Mount up this other mount so that they, too, could witness the glory of the Transfiguration. But He picked just three from that crowd. After feeding the thousands of the Feeding of the Five Thousand He could have really shown them some glory and brought them along to the Mount of Transfiguration. But He showed this glory to only three of those thousands.

Of those three we have a recollection of it from one of them. In the Epistle today Peter tells us what it was like. It was glorious, of course. It was spectacular, of course. It was something that many, if not all, of us would ourselves like to witness. But the Holy Spirit in inspiring the apostles in writing the New Testament gives to us the perfect perspective on things like this. Peter’s words maintain the glory of the Transfiguration even as they show that it’s not what we ought to hang our hat on. It’s great, but there’s something better, he says. It’s spectacular, and how great would it have been to witness it as he had, but there’s something better that we have.

Consider this, the closing words to today’s Gospel reading: “And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, ‘Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.’” The first detail almost goes past our observance. They came down the mountain. This is a very important fact. They didn’t stay on the mountain. It was great! It was spectacular! They wanted to stay on the mountain! But they didn’t. They came down.

And as they did, we see the second detail, Jesus telling them to keep quiet about it. It’s spectacular. It’s amazing. It’s a sight to behold. But don’t tell anyone. Well, it’s not so much not telling anyone as it is not saying anything until another event of spectacle has occurred. “If you think you saw something today, wait till you see Me rise from My grave. That’s when you can tell people.” And so Peter did. We have it in the Epistle reading. We were on that mountain. We saw the glory. We heard the voice of the Father. We witnessed this glorious event.

But then we came down the mountain. Then we kept quiet about it. Then we reflected upon what we had seen and witnessed. Then we pondered something amazing. The words of the Father. We saw Jesus transfigured before us. We saw glory as we had never known. But as we came down the mountain, He said something to us. No longer radiant, He said, Don’t say anything. Don’t tell people what you have witnessed. It means nothing apart from what I am about to do. The glory you will behold will not make sense at first. I will look the opposite of what you saw on this mountain. I will be beaten, and bruised, and bloodied, and stricken. I will draw My last breath. I will not hear the words of My dear Father, “This is My beloved Son,” but will cry out to Him, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

And after that, I will rise from the grave. There will be glory in these events that will pale My transfiguration before you on this mountain. That is why you must wait to tell others. That, and going back to what you heard My Father on the Mount of Transfiguration say of Me: “Listen to Him.”

And so we did. We listened to Him. We heard the words of the Father and heard the words of the Son. And what we have realized is that, when we wanted to hang out on that mountain, holding on to that glory we were experiencing, we were holding on to something fleeting. The glory we wanted paled in comparison with the glory of the cross and the empty tomb. The glory we attempted to hold on to was truly a vision, a glimpse if you will.

The glory of the cross, though, that is certain. The glory of the empty tomb, that is enduring. The word we have now is something that we have now. On the mountain Jesus’ face was radiant. His clothes were bright and marvelous. But what good does that really do? It does no good apart from the glory and beauty of the cross and the empty tomb. It does no good if you tell people, “Hey, we saw this spectacular display of glory from Jesus! Wish you could have too!”

No, that doesn’t do anybody any good. What does is going down the mountain. What does is the prophetic word. How does Peter say it? “We have something more sure, the prophetic word.” Now, you may be like me and the Word of God does not strike you as spectacular in comparison with the glory of the Transfiguration. But Peter sees things clearly, very unlike the way he saw them when he witnessed the glory of the Transfiguration up on the mountain. “Lord, it’s good we’re here! Let’s stay! We can enjoy this glory forever!” No, it wasn’t until he came down the mountain. Until the Lord suffered on the cross; rose from the grave; until Peter did what the Father had said, and listened to his Lord, that Peter realized that he didn’t need glory, he needed certainty.

He didn’t say, “You know that glory we saw on the mountain? We have something more glorious—the Bible.” No, he said, “We saw the glory, and granted, you didn’t, but we have something more sure.” More certain. More lasting. More what we need. And then he says, “So pay attention to it. It’s like a lamp shining in a dark place.”

Well, with radiance beaming from Jesus’ face and clothes, I’m sure it lit the place up. But it’s like a flicker from a candle compared to the Word of God. The Transfiguration was a vision, a momentary display of glory. The Word of God is a prophetic word of God; an enduring entity that shines brightly and dispels darkness. Don’t stay on the mountain. Don’t seek glory when you have something more certain. Don’t look for the glory you think God should show you when you have something more certain, the prophetic word which is written and proclaimed and applied in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Mountain top experiences are experiences we want to hold on to. But they inevitably contain the action of coming down from the mountain. After summer kids can experience a letdown, now having to go back to school. After a fantastic vacation, instead of feeling great having had wonderful experiences, you can feel down in the dumps now that you’re back to the ordinariness of your life. Any spectacular experience in this life is just that, it’s an experience. It doesn’t last. Some of the effects of it may. But the thing you want to hold on to, what you want to continue, doesn’t last. The experience itself comes to an end. You have to go back down the mountain.

What we learn today is that this is good. Don’t stay on the mountain. You need to go down to the plain. That’s where you live. That’s where God calls you to live your life and carry out your vocation He has given you. That’s where you do what our Heavenly Father has instructed you to do, you listen to your Lord. You hear the prophetic word and receive the salvific means of grace. If you stay on the mountain you are removed from the place where your Lord comes to you and gives you His true glory. It’s known chiefly in His giving His mercy and grace to you.

It’s here in this house where we hear the Word of God and receive the Holy Supper of our Lord. It’s in our homes where we hear the Word of God in family devotions and where we pray together. It’s in our daily lives where we serve others and bring them hope to their lives that comes only from coming down from the mountain and taking them to the Mount of Calvary where Christ paid for all of their sins. Showing them the empty tomb where He guaranteed eternal life in conquering the grave. Pointing them to the waters of Baptism which are connected with the word of God and in which they are transformed into a new creation.

At the very least we ought to see that Jesus, who was transfigured in glorious display, came down the mountain. He did so in order to ascend a humble mountain, Calvary. Even that mountain, though, He came down from, having accomplished salvation and displayed His true glory, that of suffering and dying for us. His rest in the tomb even was momentary, He left that dark place after three days. He reigns on the mountain now, so to speak, having ascended to heaven. But even here, Jesus doesn’t stay on that mountain, but rather descends to us; coming to us in the Gospel and the Sacraments.

After the glory and after the voice of the Father, the disciples saw on that mountain Jesus only. When we hear the Gospel, when we remember our Baptism, when we receive the Lord’s Supper, we ought to see Jesus only. It was Jesus only on the cross. Don’t stay on the mountain seeking glory from Him. Hang out where He has promised to come to you. It is indeed good to be here where He displays His glory by giving you grace and forgiving you. And in this way you may descend the mountain and go in peace and serve the Lord. Amen.

SDG

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