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Lindemann on the Transfiguration of Our Lord

by revalkorn ~ February 8th, 2011

THE TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD

The observance of this festival on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany when there is more than one such Sunday is distinctly a Lutheran use and dates from Reformation times. The rubrics provide for a celebration that is almost annual. The Epiphany Season is to demonstrate in the scheme of the Church Year that the Babe of Bethlehem, the Young Lad who grew to young manhood, and who was seen and known of men in the walks and relations of the common daily life, is God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, God in man made manifest. It is also to show how in the love of God this Jesus is saving His people from their sins. Sunday after Sunday adds to the manifestations till we reach the Transfiguration Mount and behold there the climax of epiphanies. The Last Sunday of the season, immediately before the season of preparation for the Passion, is historically appropriate in our Lord’s life. He descends from the Mount and, heartened by the voice out of the cloud, sets His face to go up to Jerusalem. With the Transfiguration scene ever before us, we enter the days of the holy Passion, accompany Him down into the valley through the gloom and agonies, to climb with Him that other hill. The tone of the Propers is naturally historical.

The Introit. “The lightnings lightened the world; the world trembled and shook. How amiable are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth, for the courts of the Lord.”

As we hear the Antiphon, the whole wondrous event of the Transfiguration flashes before our eyes. The Psalm Verse echoes the desire expressed by St. Peter in the Holy Gospel, the true desire of dwelling with God.

The Collect. “O God, who in the glorious Transfiguration of Thine only-begotten Son hast confirmed the mysteries of the faith by the testimony of the fathers and who, in the voice that came from the bright cloud, didst in a wonderful manner foreshow the adoption of sons, mercifully vouchsafe to make us co-heirs with the King of His glory, and bring us to the enjoyment of the same; through the same,” etc.

This prayer recites the historic event, but looks backward and forward: back to the mysteries to be revealed only by faith simple and true, back to the sure word of testimony by eyewitnesses; forward to the fulfillment of the purpose of Christ’s coming and of His revelation to men. The voice said: “Thou art My Son.” In Him and through Him we are the sons of God, coheirs with the King. The older the Collect, the shorter and more concise in expression. This is one of the youngest in the use of the Church, quite lengthy and having a rather involved style. The two grounds for the petition and the parallel construction run throughout.

The Epistle (2 Peter 1:16-21). One of the privileged three who witnessed the Transfiguration bears unique testimony.

The Gradual. “Thou art fairer than the children of men; grace is poured into Thy lips. The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool. Alleluia! Alleluia! Sing unto the Lord, bless His name; show forth His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among all people. Alleluia!

The Proper Sentence. “Alleluia! Oh, praise the Lord, all ye nations, and laud Him, all ye people. For His merciful kindness is great toward us, and the truth of the Lord endureth forever. Alleluia! ”

The Gospel (St. Matt. 17:1-9). Here is recorded the simple narrative of the transcendent fact.

Proper Preface. “And now do we praise Thee that Thou didst send us Thine only-begotten Son and that in Him, being found in fashion as a man, Thou didst reveal the fullness of Thy glory.”

SERMON ON THE EPISTLE

As we observe the Feast of Our Lord’s Transfiguration, we stand between the glories of the Christmas and Epiphany season and the wonders of the Lenten and Easter season. These seasons bring wonderful truths indeed. A babe in the manger who is God manifest in the flesh. This God-man is the Savior for all men, Jews and Gentiles. As Savior He gives His life for the world. Then He comes forth from the grave triumphant over all men’s enemies — sin, death, and hell. As true man, our Brother, He ascends up into glory and occupies the everlasting throne of power, ruling over all things visible and invisible. This Son of Man shall come again to judge and to save.

Wonderful as these stories are, we accept them, put our confidence in them, rest all our hopes on them. Why this trust? Could they not be mere fables, romantic and ingenious inventions of the human mind to bolster human courage and to satisfy human longings? Or are they facts, revelations from the mind and heart of God to meet human need? This is the question with which the Epistle deals. We consider:

The Foundation of Our Faith

Men in all ages have thought and spoken about God and man’s relation to Him. The earliest monuments in all lands are at least in part religious. The ancient inscriptions of the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, unearthed by excavators, tell what men thought about God, His relation to man, and man’s relation to Him. These declarations contain some elements of truth. They show that even without divine revelation man knows some things about God by nature, as the existence of a Supreme Being to whom man is responsible and upon whom he is utterly dependent. However, also much fiction and speculation and romance is mixed with truth. Some of the gods are merely glorified men with all the failings and vices of humankind. After all, the natural religion of men rests on the flimsy ground of the fallible human mind.

The religious faith of many people today rests on no better foundation. Much of what passes for modern Christianity is built largely on human speculation. There is no definite authority to determine what is truth or error, right or wrong. Human reason is the criterion. Men speculate about Jesus of Nazareth, His Person and His work. Was He God and the Savior from sin? Human reason cannot understand how God should become true man in order to undo the wrong man had done. Man’s pride rebels against the thought that he is so helpless as to need help from outside himself. Therefore Christ’s deity is denied, and He is made a mere man and the Son of God only in the same sense in which we can all become sons of God. Men speculate also about the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. But in that relationship the Savior and His work have no place, and the thought that men can become God’s children only through Christ Jesus is frowned upon. When in these human speculations the ugly fact of sin demands consideration, sin is simply denied. When God’s plan of salvation humbles man’s pride, God’s revealed truth is rejected.

The result of this lack of authority is that preachers say what they think and not what God has revealed in His Book. Since the great teachings of the Bible are not in harmony with man’s speculation, the preacher avoids all difficulties by ignoring the Bible and presenting his own thoughts. Occasionally the Prophet of Nazareth will be quoted as any other moral teacher, as any other man who had something worthwhile to say on the subject of man’s morals.

The Christian faith, however, rests not on speculations of fallible men but on the testimony of truthworthy eyewitnesses and earwitnesses. In science and philosophy speculation may have value, but it has absolutely no place in religion. For here we deal with the most vital facts of human life. It is folly to build one’s life for time and eternity on what the mind of fallible and often mistaken men has thought. Religion deals with the immortal soul, with matters that determine our eternal weal or woe unalterably. Therefore we want facts, facts of history, facts experienced in human life. To be of any value the Christian faith must have a historical basis, must be based on testimony. Our Lord recognized this and said that men must be won to Christianity by the testimony of His followers. “You shall be My witnesses.”

In the Christian faith we have facts and the testimony of eyewitnesses. St. Peter says in the text: “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” He goes right to the heart of the matter. The heart of Christianity, the center around which the Old and New Testaments revolve, is the living, historic Person Jesus Christ. Christianity is historic, begins and ends with the historic Jesus. We are not dealing with legends or myths but with a Person whom history knows.

When St. Peter or St. John spoke or wrote, they told of historic facts they had witnessed, their eyes seen, their cars heard. St. John writes: “That which … we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life . . . that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you.” St. Peter declares in the text: “We were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” He is speaking especially of the Transfiguration and continues: “When He received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain.”

St. Peter, together with Sts. James and John, had been with our Lord on the high mountain when He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His garments became white as light. They witnessed His majesty with their own eyes. Then they heard the voice of the everlasting Father from the Majestic Glory: “This is My beloved Son.”

But this was not all they saw and heard. They saw His many miracles, they saw Him in His resurrection glory, they saw Him ascend to heaven. They heard the angel say after the Ascension: “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.”

These historic facts, which they had witnessed and to which they testified, are the basis of our faith. These men were of the highest type; therefore we may depend on their testimony. They wrote the truth, even when it was to their dis-advantage. Regarding St. Peter we are told things far from admirable, but all was told and not only the pleasant, because the truth was told.

Our faith rests furthermore on the Prophetic Word made more sure. When St. Peter wrote of the Prophetic Word, only a little of the New Testament had been written, and even this little was not in general circulation. So he had the Old Testament Scriptures in mind. Why was this Word of Prophecy sure? “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” No Prophet of old wrote his own interpretation of any vision he had, but he spoke as God through the Holy Spirit moved him on. The Prophets often wrote much more than they fully understood. This was possible because God inspired what they wrote.

This word of Old Testament Prophecy, St. Peter declares, has been made more sure. How? By what the Apostles had seen and heard. Before their very eyes, in their very ears, they saw and heard fulfilled every Word of Prophecy. As they had walked with the Lord, Prophecy had become history. This Word of Prophecy, made more sure by its fulfillment in Christ, is the foundation of the Christian faith.

Does our faith rest securely on this foundation? “You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the Morning Star rises in your hearts.” The foundation on which we may build our faith is there. But the best foundation means nothing in a practical way if we build alongside of it in the sand. Therefore the Apostle bids us build our faith on God’s Word.

The Word of God, the writings of the Old Testament Prophets and the written testimony of the Apostles, is a light that shines in a dark place. The darkness to be dispelled is spiritual ignorance. The light to be brought is spiritual knowledge. The Apostle says that if we pay attention to the Word, this light in a dark place will grow and grow until it becomes day in our hearts. If we build our faith on the solid foundation of God’s Word, if we pay attention to this Word, believe it, follow it, act upon it, we shall experience the truth of the Word in our hearts. We shall know the truths of God, and we shall believe them, not only be-cause the Prophets wrote them, not only because the Apostles testified to them, but because we know of our own experience. It has become day, glorious, happy daytime in our hearts. Jesus Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, has arisen in our hearts and cast out the gloom of doubt, of questionings, of sadness.

That is the tempting prospect St. Peter holds out to all who pay attention to the Word. Nothing is more desirable than that the promise of the text tempt us to put it to a practical test. That saddest thing connected with a Christian Church is the sight of so many who refuse to build their lives solidly on the foundation of God’s Word and to pay attention to the Word of Prophecy, made more sure. They come to hear the Word, they are members of a Christian congregation, but the day never dawns in their hearts, they never taste to the full the joys and comforts and sweet experiences God holds out to them in Christ Jesus. Their religion never means much to them in a practical way as they go through life.

Why is this? Because they do not pay attention to the Word, do not put it to the practical test, do not act upon it. They will not be persuaded to build their life on the foundation of the Word. They always hold back, make reservations, refuse to act upon the testimony of the Prophets and Apostles, to reduce it to practice in their own lives. As a result, they never have the glorious experiences God has prepared for all who permit the Word to have free course. All their lives they lead a crippled, inadequate existence.

What do you think would happen to you and in you if you resolved by the power of God’s Spirit to permit the light of God’s Word to illuminate your heart and life, if you stopped refusing to act upon the Word, and if you wholeheartedly obeyed the promptings of the Holy Spirit? The same thing the text describes, the same thing thousands of Christians have experienced. Happy, bright, joyful daylight would come to you, so that you need fear no more. What would happen if you stopped holding out and told yourself, I shall pay attention to and act on God’s Word; I shall permit the light of Prophecy to shine into my heart and act the part of a Christian redeemed by the blood of God; I shall learn just as much as I can about God, His attitude towards me, my relation to Him, His dealings with men; I shall study His Word at home, hear every sermon I can, attend every Bible class; whatever I learn in this way I shall apply in my life, in time of need and trouble; I shall build my hopes on God’s promises and in thought, word, and deed follow my Lord and Master, Jesus Christ?

Many will not do this. They imagine that people who pay serious attention to God’s Word and apply it practically are somewhat queer. They fear that they might become enthusiastic about their religion and God and the life in Christ. So they foolishly and unnecessarily rob themselves of the greatest and kindest gifts a loving, almighty God can bestow upon His creatures. They are as sad a spectacle as a cripple on crutches trying to run a foot race, as a man who fails to see the greatest riches because he keeps his eyes closed or fails to grasp them because he is too indifferent or lazy. They could walk in the sunlight but creep along in the night. They could be joyously happy, yet prefer to be miserable. They could have in their hearts a peace that passes understanding, but are foolish enough to continue restless and unsatisfied.

Who could picture greater folly? These are some of the sad reflections prompted by the text. Oh, that we, one and all, would build on the foundation of God’s sure Word! That we would permit the Light of the Word to dispel the darkness in our lives, that we would cease from folly and walk in the light of God’s day!

SERMON ON THE HOLY GOSPEL

On the Holy Mountain with Our Lord

This last of the Sundays after our Lord’s Epiphany is the Feast of the Transfiguration in the Lutheran Church. The Epiphany Season is to bring home to us that the Savior who came into this world as a little Babe is God manifest in the flesh. With next Sunday we enter upon the period of preparation for Lent. We shall accompany our Lord into the gloom and agonies of His suffering and death. But before He descends into those dark depths, He is shown us once more in His divine glory. He ascends the mountain and is glorified. He hears the voice of the Father: “This is My Son, My Chosen; listen to Him!” Heartened by this assurance, He goes down from the mountain and sets His face to go to Je-rusalem into His death.

The Propers for this day are most appropriate. In the Antiphon of the Introit the whole wondrous event of the Transfiguration flashes before our eyes: “The lightning lightened the world; the earth trembled and shook.” In the Psalm Verse the same desire is voiced as St. Peter expressed on the Mount of Trans-figuration: “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He wished to stay and live with the glorified Christ and the representatives of the glorified saints forever. Knowing that this can be only in the house of God, we sing: “How amiable are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts; my soul longeth, yea, even fainteth, for the courts of the Lord.”

The Holy Gospel brings the simple narrative of the Transfiguration. In the Epistle, one of the three disciples who were present and saw the Transfiguration, St. Peter, bears unique testimony as an eyewitness: “We were eyewitnesses of His divine majesty, when we were with Him in the holy mountain.”

In the Gradual the great truth of the day is proclaimed. “Thou art fairer than the children of men; grace is poured into Thy lips.” This refers to the words of the Voice on the mountain: “This is My Son, My Chosen; listen to Him.” The following words point to the Exaltation foreshadowed in the Transfiguration: “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool.” The Gradual closes: “Sing unto the Lord, bless His name; show forth His salvation from day to day; declare His glory among all people.”

The Collect is unusually lengthy. It is one of the youngest we have, in use only since 1456. It refers to the testimony of the fathers, the sure Word of Prophecy, of which the Epistle speaks. It declares that in the Transfiguration is foreshadowed our adoption as sons of God and coheirs with the King of Glory.

So the Propers for the day bring us the narrative, the significance, and the comforting application of our Lord’s Transfiguration. We are observing the Feast with the celebration of the Holy Sacrament. We shall think then of the fact that our Lord still leads His faithful up into the high mountain and is transfigured before them in the Holy Communion.

“After six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart.” Of the Twelve our Lord took only the three who composed the inner circle. The nine were not taken because they were not qualified to profit by the experience. Even the three were not qualified to profit to the full. St. Luke tells us: “Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep but kept awake, and they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him.” Splendid visions to be seen, but the disciples were drowsy. The last days had been most trying. Six days before, Peter had confessed in the name of all: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then our Lord had told them of His approaching death. The agitation over this horrifying prospect, coupled with ceaseless labor, had brought them to the point of exhaustion. The rest in the undisturbed quiet of the mountaintop brought on sleepiness. They were heavy with sleep. But they fought it off. Think what they would have missed had they not kept awake!

After six days. Six days have elapsed since by our presence in the house of God, in the midst of our Lord’s disciples, we made our confession last Sunday. Today, on the seventh, the Lord leads us up into a high mountain apart to be transfigured. We have come out of six days of labor and after a wearisome week in the world we may find it a little strenuous to follow the Lord Jesus to the mountaintop and see Him transfigured in the Holy Sacrament. The quiet hour in God’s house may tend to make us sleepy and drowsy.

If we are not indifferent to mountaintop visions and have come here to be apart with the glorified Christ, yet find that we have little energy left to climb a mountain and that we are drowsy, may we consider that when the three disciples fought off sleepiness and remained awake, they were richly rewarded. They beheld His glory. They companied with glorified saints. They saw their lowly Master in the glory and majesty that was His from the foundation of the world. If we this morning shake off our drowsiness, we shall have a glorious experience. In the Holy Communion our Lord takes us out of the turmoil of a busy, noisy world and leads us to a quiet mountaintop, that He may give us a bright vision of a bet-ter land. So we rouse ourselves to see and hear what is going on around us.

As we gather on the mount today, our Lord is truly present. He has promised us that in the Holy Sacrament we shall receive His Body together with the Bread and drink His Blood together with the Wine. We partake of Him, and He becomes part of us. The glorified Christ, who sits on the throne, is here to commune with us, to form an inseparable union with us.

“And, behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him.” Fifteen hundred years before, Moses had ascended Mount Nebo and died there. Nine hundred years before, Elijah had been taken from this world in a chariot of fire. Now, on the Mount of Transfiguration, the disciples find themselves in the company of these men out of the world of the dead but everliving.

We experience something similar this morning. The glorified Christ is present here. In heaven the angels bow before Him and sing their Holy, Holy, Holy to Him. The glorified saints stand before Him and sing their song of victory: “The strife is o’er, the battle won! Worthy is the Lamb that died to receive honor and glory!” At the same moment the Christ who is present in heaven is also present here on earth in the Holy Sacrament, and we join our voices with the heavenly choir and sing our praises to the Lamb that was slain. With angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify His glorious name, praising Him and saying, Holy, Holy, Holy.

As we sing, we receive with the mouth of our body the seal and the unfailing assurance that the peace of heaven and the glory of the saints is ours even now and here. We are even now a part of the company of heaven. We sing with Moses and Elijah the praises of our Lord. Verily, we are on the mountaintop! At no time are we closer to heaven than in the moment of communion with our Lord and King.

Does the prospect fill our souls with fear and trembling? We read that the disciples were filled with awe and afraid. The mountaintop experience may fill us with dread. If we are spiritually alert, we shall step into the presence of the holy Christ only with misgivings. In the light of His unsullied purity our sins show in the blackest color. Sinners are bound to be uncomfortable in the presence of holiness.

Furthermore, Moses is there, the stern lawgiver, and we become conscious of countless violations of God’s holy Law. Elijah is there, the great reformer, who insisted on undivided loyalty to God, wholehearted service of the Lord. He makes us conscious of so much halfheartedness, when our service was divided between the world and God, between self and our Lord. Our impulse is to avoid the mountaintop. We have no place in the company of those who are to see the glory of the Lord.

We must, however, listen to the conversation that takes place. St. Luke tells us that Moses and Elijah talked with our Lord of His departure which He was to accomplish at Jerusalem. They talked of how the Lord Jesus was to satisfy all the demands of the Law and suffer all the punishment for men’s sins by His suffering and death. They spoke of how man’s halfhearted service of God was to be canceled by Christ’s wholehearted devotion to His Father’s will.

As the holy Christ takes us on the holy mountain in the Sacrament, the conversation is no less surprising. Christ speaks to us: “My Body was given into death for you. My Blood was shed for the remission of your sins. I gave My Body and shed My Blood to free you from the guilt and punishment of sin. Yes, more! I here give Myself with all I am and have. I become part of you, and you become part of Me. I in you and you in Me. We become partners and share everything. All I did is yours. Even My glory is yours. There is nothing to prevent you from mingling with the angels and all the company of heaven, including Moses and Elijah, in lauding and magnifying My glorious Name.”

Now our mountaintop resounds with hymns of praise to the Lamb that died and lived forevermore. We join the chorus of angels and saints in heaven. We are not with them as yet, but only the narrow stream of death, one moment of dying, separates us. For a brief hour we enjoy a foretaste of what awaits us. Here is our Lord in His beauty, communing with His beloved. We are so far above the sordid world, and we know ourselves so close to the land of our hope that we imagine we can hear the heavenly choirs as we lift our hearts above this earth and sing: “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

“And Peter said: Lord, it is well that we are here.” He proposed that they remain forever on the mountain, far removed from the labors and sorrows of earth, in happy isolation and peaceful enjoyment. But our Lord said No. There was work to be done down below. There was a world to be saved. Soon the glory vanished and the Master stood again in the form of the Servant, the Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He led them down from the mountain, and when they descended, they were immediately engulfed again by the sordid affairs of the world. The first sight that greeted them was a poor boy of whom the devil had taken bodily possession. From the sublimity of the mountaintop to the deepest depths of human degradation!

We share St. Peter’s desire to remain forever within sight of the glorious land beyond. Why must our mountaintop experience be so fleeting? If we could live our lives in the ecstasy of the moment, conscious of Christ’s nearness and presence and within touch of glory! But down we must. Tomorrow we shall he back at our commonplace tasks, and the humdrum of our daily existence will seem all the more monotonous and sordid.

It need not be so. The disciples who had seen Christ’s glory were never quite the same again. They were led into the darkest shadows of Gethsemane, they saw Christ also in His deepest humiliation. But what they had seen on the mount kept their faith steady in the storm of sorrow. Years later, St. Peter writes that his death is approaching. In the face of death he assures his readers that he has preached to them the true Gospel. What makes him so sure? “We were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” Surely, St. John stood on Golgotha under the Cross with far more understanding because he had been on that other mount with our Lord. In the majestic first chapter of his Gospel we hear an echo of the Transfiguration when he declares that the eternal Word, who was God, was made flesh and dwelt among us; we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.

So our experience on the holy mount need not be without lasting effect in our lives. “And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.” Jesus only, in our hateful, hopeless workaday world! We leave the mountain with the assurance of His abiding presence with His beloved. He does not stay behind but goes with us. The consciousness that we go out from here in the company of the world-ruling, death-conquering Christ ought to give a new spring to our step and a joyous lilt to our speech. We have nothing to fear. We walk through life at the hand of our omnipotent Brother and Friend. We have been with Christ in the holy mount and have seen His glory. We have had a glimpse of the goodly land that is our home. We have had a foretaste of heaven’s bliss. We have heard the songs of the elect around Christ’s throne and have joined in the Alleluias of the heavenly choir. We come down from the mount joyously conscious that we are on our way home. The way leads down the mountain, through a dark world, and into valleys of pain and sorrow, yes, into the shadow of death and night. But ahead we see the Easter dawn and the glorious lights of home.

“Do this in remembrance of Me. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me. I shall drink it new with you in My Father’s Kingdom. You proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” Communion with Christ on the mount. Jesus took with Him Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart. The other nine were engaged in a fruitless struggle with the devil at the bottom. Poor nine! Until our Lord comes again, the darkest mystery will always be how so many can be satisfied with grubbing around in a devil-infested world when the mountaintop and Christ beckon after six days of earthly sordidness. God, give us sight, and a taste for Thy glory!

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