This Sunday was also the kickoff for Epiphany's 25th Anniversary celebrations.
'Tis good, Lord, to be here! We sing what St. Peter spoke, a confession that it’s good to be in the presence of Jesus, to get a glimpse of heaven. It’s good to see an end to the sin and misery and junk that is a part of life in this world. But what about when we have to leave that glimpse? What about when we, like Peter, James, and John have to go back to the plain? Today we have Jesus’ promise that He goes with us to the plain, through the valley of the shadow of death. Today we hear His promise that what we glimpsed for a fleeting moment will be ours eternally.
The Transfiguration of Our Lord is a day that gives us strength to set out on our journey. We’re just a few weeks away from the season of Lent, from our journey through spiritual warfare to Our Lord’s cross and death. The Transfiguration is celebrated on this threshold of Pre-Lent and Lent so we remember where we’re going. For Peter, James, and John it was good for them to see what they saw. They saw Jesus shine with unborrowed light, they saw His face and garments like the sun, they saw the incarnate Lord hold converse high. Though they all fled and abandoned Jesus in His time of greatest need, this incident, this mountaintop vision was in the back of their minds. It gave them strength when they questioned. It gave them pause on Easter as they looked for the body of Jesus and did not find it. Yes, they were afraid. Yes, they doubted. But would it have been all-out apostasy without the mountain of Transfiguration? Would they have lost all hope had they not seen a glimpse of the glorified Christ just a brief time before they saw Him die in the most shameful of ways?
We can relate to Peter, James, and John and the rest of the disciples. We know what it is to have moments of doubt and fear, moments when we’re ready to give up. We’ve all been there, on the edge of despair, certain that taking the next step is the biggest mistake we could make. We know the dread of getting out of bed because we know it’s the day we meet with the oncologist, fail the test, plan the funeral, sign the bankruptcy papers, find out we weren’t good enough to make the team. And congregations go through uncertain times, too. Though God has blessed us each day of our 25 years, it doesn’t mean there haven’t been questions and struggles along the way. Did we go the right direction? Did we choose the right location? Should we have done this or that?
The Transfiguration is a type. In church-speak, a type is a person or an event that prefigures someone or something yet to come. Isaac is a type of Christ because he was Abraham’s only son about to be sacrificed. Moses was a type of Christ because he led God’s people out of slavery. The Transfiguration is a type of Christ’s resurrection, ascension, and reign at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. It shows what will be openly seen one day.
This type of the Transfiguration was good for Peter, James, and John because they got a brief respite from the struggle. They got to see Jesus as He truly is, not veiled in His state of humiliation. God grants each of us Transfiguration-like events as well. He sends us times of complete joy and peace. He sends us that feeling of being completely loved. He sends us that moment of awe when we sing His praises and understand that we are in His presence. He sends us the joy of laughter and togetherness. He sends us the beauty of a sunrise or the mountains or a perfectly tended garden or the wash of the waves hitting the shore. He sends us those times when we see or experience that peace and bliss that will be permanent one day.
The Lord has given this congregation our own Mount of Transfiguration moments of joy as well. He sent enthusiastic phone calls to Pastor Lach the same day the ads in the newspaper announcing the first service. He sent those 76 people who attended the first service in the school cafeteria. He gave the joy of the groundbreaking and the dedication. He gave laughter and fellowship at countless church picnics, golf outings, ski trips, and the like. But more importantly He gave power to His Word as it was spoken. He gave new birth as each of those 83 people who have been Baptized at Epiphany were brought to the Font. He gave His Spirit to those 111 who have confessed their faith in the presence of God and this congregation and asked for His aid to remain firm in their confession. He gives free forgiveness each Divine Service in the Word of Absolution and in His Body and Blood. So, whether in moments personal or congregational we get glimpses into the joy that will be ours above. We get those blessed moments to carry us through the difficult ones.
We want to stay in those moments, though. Like Peter, we want to build tents and stay in the happiness. We don’t want to go to the plain, we don’t want to go back to honking horns and morning commutes when we’re relaxing on vacation. We don’t want to go back to the realities of life when we’re finally relaxed in the Lord’s house. Can’t I just stay here and be a doorkeeper instead of going back out there to the realities of life? No. We have to put up with the realities of being in the Church Militant. Satan attacks. Temptation knocks and we answer when we know we shouldn’t. Doubt and despair gain the upper hand.
But Jesus Christ is there. He goes with you to the plain. Your Lord God is a Sun and Shield. He is with you always, through everything, His hand leading you. He is there to speak to you, reminding you of what He has done for you. He reminds you that He has put death to death. He has drowned sin in the deepest sea. He has brought light to despair and joy to gloom. He has brought healing to disease and wholeness to brokenness. Because you are Christ’s, because you are in Him and He is in you, everything bad is turned into something good. That good isn’t yours to experience completely and constantly yet, but it will be. Until then, rest and rejoice in the Lord’s blessings. Rejoice in the Transfiguration moments He gives you. One day you will see His glory face to face.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.