Epiphany Par Excellence


Let's give the insert its due. Their blurb for today nails it. "Epiphany reaches its climax today. The glory of the transfigured Jesus shines forth into our hearts and lives, giving us 'the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.'" This as Arabs might say is the mother of all Epiphanies; as Hebrew says the Epiphany of Epiphanies; or as the French say Epiphany par excellence! When Magi showed up to worship Him, when He was found in the Temple conducting His true Father's business, when He turned water into wine, commanded fish be caught, cast out demons, healed the sick, raised the dead: lightening flashed each time as we caught a glimpse of who Jesus really is. But here is a continuous flash like ball lightening.

What this Epiphany par excellence reveals is that we have an inhuman Savior. Inhuman sounds scary and gives monstrous, ghoulish images. But inhuman is accurate. Jesus is 100% human as we are. The only exception being He has no sin, original or actual. But He is also 100% God. The Transfiguration is the ultimate revelation of what we said at Christmas "We live on a visited planet." From My Favorite Martin to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, to X Files and Stranger Things, entertainment loves to focus on alien life visiting earth. That's what happened when as the angel Gabriel put it: The Holy Spirit came upon a Virgin named Mary and the power of the Most High overshadowed her. So the Holy One was born of her (Luke 1:35). But as Harry Chapin sang, "He came into the world in the usual way." So not much to see then, but now? "The appearance of His face changed" like after Easter. His body so glowed that His clothes couldn't contain the light. Luke alone tells you that the disciples saw His glory, not that of the heavenly visitors. Like a human burning bush, Jesus glows as no human could without burning up. Inhuman indeed.

To say this stayed with Peter, James, John is an understatement. The text ends with they "told no one at that time what they had seen." This is a Greek perfect. They saw it and they would forever see it. We would say, they couldn't unsee it. If you can remember flashbulbs on cameras, after they popped a bright light remained in your eyes for seconds after. Here it's forever after. Don't believe me? Read 1 Jn. 1:1-2. "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, and our hands have touched...we have seen it." 60 years later what stays with John is what He has forever seen here. The same Greek perfect for seeing something in the past now and forever brackets what John says he heard and touched. Peter, 30 years after today, writes in 2 Peter that he was an eyewitness of His majesty "on the holy mountain."

An inhuman Savior Epiphanies today, one bigger than Moses and more powerful than Elijah, one who fulfills Moses' Laws and all that the prophets foretold. The 2 people the preincarnate Jesus, God the Son, met with on Mount Sinai, the 2 men who saw God but only from behind or in a still, small voice, see Him face to face today. These two men, one dead and buried, one taken alive to heaven, now see their Lord's face. And what are they talking about? The things we talk about in Bible class! The things we focus on each year in Lenten Vespers. Some of us can't wait to get to heaven where we think all our esoteric, abstruse, and profound questions will be answered. Here we see what the people in heaven focus on. Not on the arcane but the mundane. Our text describes it in terms of Moses. They were speaking literally about Jesus' exodus which He was about to fulfill in Jerusalem. Later Lk. 9:51 describes it using the word for Elijah being taken up into heaven. "The time approached for Jesus to be taken up to heaven."

Like Moses, Jesus leads us to the Promise Land. Go home read Exodus 14. O, go crazy, read Exodus 12 through 15. There you find what we have here. The Cloudy Presence of God which separates His people from others; the Passover Lamb whose shed blood causes the Angel of Death to pass over those who use it; His enemies defeated; the Promise Land won, and the Church delivered into the wilderness to journey to it. But why Elijah? If you treat yourself and keep reading in Matthew 17 or Mark 9, you'll see that on the way down what fixates the apostles is Elijah. After the Father speaks from the Cloudy Prescence, Elijah and Moses are both taken back to heaven. On the way down the mountain the disciples remembered that the scribes said Elijah must return. That's what the second to last verse of the OT says: "Look! I am going to send Elijah the prophet to you before the great and fearful day of the Lord comes" (Mal. 4:5)!

You see Elijah never lost. He stood up to over 900 false prophets. God answered his prayers with fire from heaven. At his word drought came and lifted. He was fed by God through ravens, a widow, and an angel. He faced Death and won. He divided the waters of the Jordan, and when a wicked king twice sends 50 soldiers to seize Him, Elijah strikes them dead with fire from heaven. How they needed Elijah! How we need an Elijah! Jesus responds to His disciples then and now telling us that Elijah came already in the person of John the Baptist, and the enemies of God did whatever they pleased to him. That means the great and fearful Day of the Lord is about to begin. He passes though rejection, betrayal, suffering, damning and dying, but culminates when Jesus is taken up alive into heaven at the Ascension as Elijah prefigured by being taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. The previous Passion predictions had nothing about the Ascension. O they were told that Jesus ministry wasn't going to end like Moses did with Him dead and buried. They had been told Jesus would rise. Now they know even that isn't the end.

But do they? Even during this Epiphany par excellence we have Peter speaking but not knowing what he said. Sound familiar? This is me. But the Father does a Mary Chapin Carpenter. She laments in a 1994 song that it's been too long since somebody whispered "'shut up and kiss me'". Here the Father says in effect: shut up and let Me kiss you. Okay what He actually says, "This is My Son, whom I have chosen, listen to Him." So, that's "Shut up and listen." Listen to Jesus, not Moses, not Elijah, not even an angel from heaven. Listen to Jesus not scientists, not extraterrestrials, not politicians, not your opinions, feelings, doubts, or fears. When it comes to the truth about Sin, Death, and the Devil, you must listen to Jesus.

Remember at His Baptism, how the Father spoke from heaven saying, "You are My beloved Son" (Mk. 1:11; Lk. 3:22). There the Father addresses the Man Jesus for His sake claiming the flesh and blood from the Virgin Mary as His own. Here the Father speaks for our sake: "This flesh and blood Man who you see getting tired, hungry, crushed with sorrow, weeping, thirsting, suffering, you will soon see crucified, forsaken, dead and buried. But this Jesus of the cross and grave is My forever chosen Son. This drives home the truth: Jesus, our Lord and Savior, our God and Redeemer knows what it means to tremble, to fear, to be anxious. He wasn't indifferent to pain. "He experienced these things the same way we do." The Man Jesus had to believe without seeing even as you are called to do. He was led into darkness by His Father's hand, even as we are. And in the end He had to let go of that hand (Giertz, To Live With Christ, 175-6). We never, ever do. Jesus is the One chosen in eternity to bear the world's sins and so suffer, be forsaken, dammed, and die on cross because of them, because of you, us, me.

But what does the Father direct us to do in regards to this Man who is revealed in a most excellent way today as True God? Lent is often the time Christians think of sacrificing for Jesus; suffering for Jesus; serving others in Jesus' name; loving Jesus more; thanking Jesus more. But what does the Father say from heaven? Not love, not serve, not sacrifice, not worship, and certainly not pity Him but listen to Him. The Father binds us to Jesus' words: spoken, read, visible in the Sacraments even as He did those who saw this. Go back to 2 Peter 1. He mentions in verse 16 that the apostles didn't follow cunningly devised fables but "were eyewitnesses of His majesty." However, Peter doesn't leave us on this mountain. He directs us to Scripture in verse 19: "We also have the completely reliable prophetic Word. You do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place." Even this Epiphany par excellence goes out. Scripture doesn't as Ps. 119 says, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path."

Listen to what Jesus says in Bible, Baptism, Absolution, and Communion. What does He say about your sins? Sent away for His sake. What does He say about the Death haunting you? Died already in your place on Calvary and passed through by you in Baptism. How about the Devil whom no one on earth is his equal? He says, "Resist the Devil" and then promises, "He will flee from you" (Ja. 4:7). And He says, "Greater is He that is in you that he that is in the world" (1 Jn. 4:4). How can Jesus say this? What did devils do who faced Jesus? They ran away screaming deliriously. In the Great Temptation when the Devil himself shows up, Jesus says, "Be gone Satan" and he goes. By Baptism you're clothed by Jesus. You may forget that you wear Jesus on your body. Satan always sees Him. And in Communion, you eat and drink Jesus, and the Devil is no match for God in Jesus' flesh and blood or for Jesus in your flesh and blood.

Raphael's 1520 painting of the Transfiguration depicts Jesus floating in the air flanked by Moses and Elijah. No, the Cloudy Presence comes down to earth this day to take Elijah and Moses back to heaven and leave the Man who is God on earth to fulfill His exodus. This Epiphany par excellence is meant to stay with us. We saw how it stayed with John and Peter. Peter will even describe his own death using the same word for Jesus' suffering, dying, rising, and ascending: He refers to "my exodus" (2 Pt. 1:15). What a most excellent way to view it. Amen

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Transfiguration of our Lord (20220227); Luke 9:28-36