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Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday – February 11, 2024

Mark 9:2-9

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

We are just coming out of a season known in the Pacific Northwest as “The Big Dark,” that season of gloomy weather that stretches from October to March, when the daylight hours are few. It can be a dreary time.

We do, however, get glimpses of what is to come on the other side of the Big Dark – especially in these latter weeks of the season. We get the odd 60-degree day. We get a break in the clouds. We notice that it is still light out at 4:30, and then 5. We get these glimpses of spring, even while it is still winter and mostly cold and damp and dark.

My wife and I live just up the hill from St. Augustine’s Catholic Church. Despite the weather, we’ve made a habit recently of taking walks in the early evening, and part of our route goes through their prayer garden behind their parking lot. Just this past week we were strolling through the Stations of the Cross in the prayer garden. It was a cold, drippy, dark day. The breeze was making our ears ache from the cold. Most of the plants in the garden are brown and limp and dormant, but just as we coming to the end of the pathway, we saw a little patch of brilliant yellow flowers. There they were, these bright, shockingly vibrant yellow crocuses. They were, I kid you not, just behind the stained-glass station depicting the Resurrection.

And so, in the dark, damp, cold twilight, there was this welcome glimpse of spring.

There was a little bit of Easter breaking out right there in the cold, hard ground – this brilliant glimpse of what is to come.

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany. Throughout the season of Epiphany we have been catching glimpses of who Jesus is. On the first Sunday in the Epiphany season we heard God speak as Jesus was baptized, saying, “This is my Son, my beloved!” The next Sunday we heard Nathanael say to Jesus: “You are the Son of God, the King of Israel!” Then we heard that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises. A couple Sundays ago we heard a demon say to Jesus, “I know you are – the Holy One of God!” Last Sunday we learned that Jesus is a healer of bodies and a healer of souls.

If you’ve had good church attendance these past weeks of Epiphany, perhaps you’ve picked up on this theme. This season has been about getting to know Jesus. The readings were carefully selected by the crafters of the lectionary to give us these glimpses of who he is.

And now on the last Sunday in Epiphany, we follow Peter and James and John to the top of a high mountain for the biggest revelation yet. At the top of that mountain Jesus was transfigured before them. He became radiant with light. His clothes were whiter than anyone in that dusty country had ever seen. “Such as no one on earth could bleach them,” St. Mark tells us.

Something similar happened when Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the commandments. Moses couldn’t look at God directly or he would die, so God hid him in the cleft of a rock, but simply being in close proximity to God caused Moses’ face to shine. When he came back down the mountain he had to wear a veil for days so he wouldn’t freak people out!

There’s an important difference, however, to what happened with Moses and what is happening with Jesus. The light on Moses’ face was reflected light. It was like the glow on your face from a camera flash. That’s not what’s happening here with Jesus. Jesus was “transfigured.” You might recognized the Greek word here. It is metamorpho, which means “changed from within.” The light Jesus was shining was emanating out of him. I love the phrase in our Hymn of the Day for today which describes it as “unborrowed light.” Jesus didn’t merely reflect God. He is God! He emanated God’s glory. In the transfiguration Jesus’ humanity was momentarily pulled back like a curtain to reveal his divinity.

Speaking of Moses, when Jesus was transfigured suddenly Moses was there too, and Elijah with him! Moses represented the law and Elijah represented the prophets and they were there with Jesus. For a moment they were in a holy huddle, with Jesus emanating this brilliant light from within.

Peter’s response to all of this was to propose a building project. His response was to suggest building three dwelling places, one for each of them. It was an idea so dumb that St. Mark sort of apologizes for him. “He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.” (I love Peter, because sometimes I say dumb things too.)

Just then a cloud came over the mountain, and from the cloud came a voice. God repeated what he had said at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my Son, the beloved.” Only now God included a command: “Listen to him!”

“You don’t need to build anything, Peter,” God was saying, “you need to listen to my Son.”

And what did Jesus then say? As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus told them to not say anything about what they had seen until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

I think this is the key to understanding this whole scene, this entire epiphany. Jesus connects what happened on the mountaintop to what would happen a short time later when he would be raised from the dead. It’s like he’s telling these three disciples, “Spoiler alert! Don’t ruin the surprise! Keep this to yourselves for a while until the final episode airs, OK?” Jesus connects what happened in his Transfiguration with what would later happen in his Resurrection.

This great epiphany, then, is a glimpse of Easter. We see the supposedly dead and gone Moses and Elijah very much alive and chatting Jesus up. We are shown that death has no power over them! While Moses couldn’t look at God directly and live, here we see sinners like Peter, James, and John looking directly at God and not dying! We catch a glimpse of Christ’s power on full display as he emanates God’s glorious light.

This is not only a great epiphany; this is a glimpse, a foretaste, of Easter! It was a glimpse for Peter and James and John, and it is a glimpse for us too. And oh, how we need it. For there is a Big Dark among us that is more than seasonal. There is a darkness that plagues us that goes far beyond the weather. We see how the power of sin is at work in so many different insidious ways, wreaking havoc on our community and our country and our world. We see the darkness in our own hearts that sometimes has us acting coldly towards the people around us. There is that damp wind of sickness and sadness, death and despair that blows through our lives from time to time.

We long for light. We long for hope. We long for peace. We long for the new life of Easter.

Dear friends, the Transfiguration is like that brilliant patch of yellow flowers in full bright bloom in that prayer garden. The Transfiguration is our glimpse of Easter. In the Transfiguration, the light of Christ breaks into our darkness even now as he reveals his power and glory to us through his Word. God has come to us in his Son, and today we see his light shining into our lives.

This light changes things for us. C. S. Lewis once wrote: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen — not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” This light illuminates the truth of God’s will – for us and for the world. This light exposes our sin while at the same time illuminating our savior. In the end, Moses and Elijah fade back into obscurity and there is only Jesus. His light shines with forgiveness and mercy for sinners. Salvation is through him alone. It does not come by our own righteousness, our own works of the law.  It is only Jesus. It is a free gift for all who place their trust in him.

This light illuminates the truth of our relationship status with God. It reveals to us that we are no longer under the curse of sin, and so we can know God. By the light of Christ we can look upon God and live! We can know God’s love and power and peace in our lives.

This light is a glimpse of the resurrection, in which Jesus overcomes the deepest darkness of all, the darkness of death. He promises that it will not keep its grip on us. He promises to raise us up with him. He promises us eternal life in the place he himself has prepared for us.

The light of Christ is the light by which we see everything else.

If you want a glimpse that spring is coming, I really suggest you take a stroll through the prayer garden at St. Augustine’s. Trust me, you won’t burst into flames. If Father Chris is walking by, he will welcome you. If you want a glimpse of spring, take a stroll over there.

But if you need a glimpse of Easter, behold the Lord Jesus on the mountaintop today. If the darkness has seemed overwhelming to you in recent days or weeks,

today he gives you this glimpse of his brilliant glory and power. He gives you a glimpse of his true identity as God, assuring you that everything he has said is trustworthy and true. And he has said. “Your sin is forgiven.”He has said, “This is my body, given for you.”

He has also said, “Do not be afraid.” He has said, “Because I live, you will live also.” He has said, “No one will snatch you out of my hands. He has said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Today our Lord Jesus gives you a glimpse of the future he has in store for you and for all of us, a glimpse of that day when his light will vanquish every last darkness, and we will bask in his glory forever.

In the meantime, listen to him.


Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church