Summary: Transfiguration of Our Lord: On the mount of transfiguration we are given a glimpse of the divinity that has been encased in human form. As we contemplate this, we must conclude that our Lord - the One Who died - is True God.
For the last month and one-half, we have been in the season of Epiphany. During Epiphany the identity of the little child whose birth we celebrated during the Christmas season, is fully revealed. Ephiphany culminates on Transfiguration Sunday - today. Today we remember the awesome event that happened on a mountaintop as the identity of Jesus was fully revealed in a dramatic and remarkable way. After that event, there is no more doubt about Jesus’ identity in the minds of his followers – He is the Messiah, the Savior, the Son of the Living God.
Deep inside – I think that we all long for a hero. When I was a little boy – my hero was my dad. When I was with him, I didn’t think that anything could go wrong. The dark wasn’t scary – with my dad. Bullies were no problem – with my dad. With my dad, where we would eat or sleep was never an issue - even when traveling on the road (dad was a truck driver). We long for heroes because we often need help.
Most of us have something nagging at us deep inside that tells us that we are not quite there. Whether those concerns are quotidian – struggles with daily life and relationships; or economic – where is my next meal, car or house payment coming from; or existential – why am I here – what’s my purpose; or soteriological – is there a hope and salvation from the trials and agonies of this life; and hopefully – all of us here are at the point where we recognize that we have an ontological problem – a problem with our very being – that our soul has a God-shaped vacuum – and image of something that was lost - that can only be filled by God. To one degree or another, deep inside all of us know that we need something or somebody that we can look up to – that we can count on – that won’t let us down.
Hollywood has made hey out of ordinary people becoming movie saviors - from Pierre Picaud being transformed into the Count of Monte Cristo, to Clark Kent morphing into Superman, to Thomas Anderson becoming Neo in the movie The Matrix, to Paul Atreides becoming Maud’Dib, the messiah figure in the movie Dune (Duna). All of these appeal to this yearning for a savior – a rescuer – somebody that can come in and restore the messes in our lives. Of course, as far as savior / messiah figures these all have one problem – they are all fictional characters! We need a real savior / messiah!
Our transfiguration text today is pretty straight-forward. Jesus takes Peter, James and John with Him to a mountaintop to pray. As they are praying, Jesus was changed before them. The Gospel-writer, St. Mark tells us that Jesus’ clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. What had been masked in human form gave way to the reality that it enfolded. God peeked through and allowed people to get a glimpse of his shekinah – the aura that surrounds God. Here we see that Jesus is not a mere mortal. Here we see that Jesus’ identity is extra-terrestrial in the most incredible way – He was very God of very God, Light of Light, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father – Who existed before the world was created and by Whom the heavens and the earth were made.
One of the questions that I’ve had when thinking about the super heros who have an alter-ego is, “Why all the drama?” Goodness gracious – why doesn’t Clark Kent just say that he is Superman? Why hide out as Peter Parker when you are Spiderman or Bruce Wayne when you are Batman? I suppose that it would be fair to ask the question, “Jesus – why mask your identity as God by veiling it in human form?”
There are important reasons for this. One of the critical ones is the fact that man cannot survive when exposed to the holiness of God. God Himself tells us that man – in our sinful state – will die if see God face to face. [Tell the story of Moses in the cleft of the rock here]. So Jesus needed to veil his divinity to be God with us.
Another reason that Jesus needed to take on the form of a man was so that He could be our substitute. Jesus did everything that God required in the Law of Moses. He fulfilled it perfectly. Then He offered that perfection to us – from one man to another, as it were. As true man, Jesus also took on our sinfulness. He was man so that He could be weighed down with the guilt of all men. Then, as a man, He offered Himself as our substitute – He took that assumed sinfulness to the Cross and paid the penalty for it on our behalf. So God was not simply trying to hide out in a Jesus alter-ego, He chose that as the way to restore all of us to a state of perfection.