Holy Gospel: St. Matthew 17:1-9
Theme: Our Lord's Transfiguration
A poll came out several months ago showing that among those who call themselves Christians nearly all believe in heaven or some form of “afterlife” which is understandable. But shockingly only 30% believe in a physical, bodily, resurrection from the grave.
Which is to say, generally, people are on board with the idea of heaven or some sort of after-life but start talking about bodies walking out of the grave, trumpets blasting, and Jesus descending from the clouds with armies of angels – then people check out. Thanks but no thanks, I’ll stick with my idea of heaven! That resurrection stuff is going just a little too far for me!
This is a discouraging sign because if Christianity is not about Jesus resurrection - if we are not about the defeat of death, and the resurrection of all flesh, then we are totally missing the boat – and frankly it’s not Christianity anymore.
Even the pagan philosophers believed in an afterlife or some vague notion of heaven. Jews believe in it. Even Muslims believe in heaven. But that doesn’t mean they are saved.
What sets Christians apart is that we believe that God Himself takes on human flesh. God walks around in a body – a flesh and blood body – and that very body, bearing the sins of the world is nailed to a tree. The Body of the Lord is wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger of the earth but God raises His Son from the dead. His body awakens – and walks out of the grave. He is seen by thousands.
The Risen Christ, fresh from the grave, sends out the apostles – the first pastors - to go to the ends of the earth and preach the Gospel, healing the sick, forgiving sins, raising the dead.
His body ascends to heaven to the right hand of the Father and he continues to dwell with us weekly in the Divine Service, where God meets us in love – His body and blood given and shed for you.
Today we celebrate the festival of the Transfiguration – it is the climax of the Epiphany season. Jesus takes Peter and James and John up to a high mountain and He is transfigured before them – his face shone like the sun, his clothing became white as light. They see Jesus in his glorified state – God of God – light of light – very God of very God. Moses and Elijah who lived 1000 years before Jesus was born are standing with him. Moses represents the Law and the first five books of the Bible. Elijah represents all the prophets who were preparing the way for the coming Christ.
They are both talking with Jesus. It’s a huddle of sorts but they’re not talking football. They’re not talking about the super bowl. They are talking about the glorious cross. They are talking about Jesus storming the gates of hell by his atoning death. They are talking about Jesus resurrection and Moses and Elijah are cheering Jesus on. They urge him on in His glorious mission, the completion of God’s plan to love man and restore a communion of love – broken by the fall into sin.
Moses and Elijah are giddy about the death of Jesus. They are not sad they are thrilled because Jesus will walk down this mountain and walk up another. His face, shining brightly like the Sun on the mount of transfiguration will be disfigured, blackened and bloodied by our own sins. His bright shining clothing, like Joseph, will stripped from him by his own brothers. He will be thrown in a pit – hung from a tree – and left to die but Heaven rejoices for the sake of Jesus cross. That ugly bloody Friday we call good.
But up on this mountain Peter is not thinking about these things nor does he want to. Just like last week, he doesn’t get it. He wants to stay up there with Moses and Elijah. He’s a little star-struck if you will – with some celebrities of the Old Testament so Peter wants to build tents to stay up there, in glory. Who can blame Him?
At that moment a cloud overshadows them and the Father’s voice from heaven said, “This is my Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Arise, have no fear.” And when the disciples lifted their eyes, all they saw was Jesus. Moses and Elijah fade away. Jesus immediately sets his face toward Jerusalem - sets his eyes upon the cross.
The popular saying is true, “no pain, no gain,” and what pain he endured for your sake. When Jesus breathed His last, Holy Scriptures testifies that the earth shook, the tombs were opened, and people walked out of their graves into the new and greater Jerusalem.
When we walk to the altar and come to the communion rail we join them. We bring our children. Some of us hold hands. Our bodies are joined to His. His blood is mingled with ours.
We see Jesus. We behold His love and our faces shine like the Sun. Not even death can end our gladness because we know that our graves will not stay closed. We know that Christ will lead us out. So frankly, we don’t need a super bowl. We have a victory much better and even more satisfying. We believe that we will be transfigured from one degree of glory to another. We believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. In the name of Jesus. Amen.