“The Glory Days Are Now” / Transfiguration 2017 / Matthew 17:1-9Pr. Christopher Gillespie
February 5, 2017
In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.
“Lord, it is good for us to be here!” Our friend St. Peter longs for the “glory days.” He remembers when there was peace. He remembers when his people were wealthy and prosperous. He remembers when there were so many people gathered to the tabernacle that there was no where to sit. He remembers the bright Angel of the Lord appearing to Moses in the burning bush. He remembers the brilliant cloud leading his people to the promised land. St. Peter lived in the past because he didn’t know a future. He longed for the days of glory again.
But “glory days” are a creation of our his imagination. When did the glory of God visit them? While the people were forced to exodus from bondage in Egypt into the hard life of the desert. The “glory says” were far from easy. They had their share of challenges. Had he forgotten the constant worry about food and water? Had he forgotten the perennial complaints about the manna and quail God provided? Had he forgotten that his parents had whined non-stop and even longed to return to slavery?
There were no glory days. Rather St. Peter has a wonderfully selective memory. He’s holding on to the good times and has set aside the everything else. It’s the only antidote to the hurt, heartache, failure, and despair he remembers. The brilliant shining face of Jesus, along with Moses and Elijah, is just the remedy he needs for Roman occupation, 400 years of prophetic silence, all the false teachers, and the general apathy of his fellow countrymen to God and His Word.
“Let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” It’s not a new idea. God himself had commanded the people to build a tabernacle to house the ark of the covenant, with its mercy seat and the tablets of the Law. God himself had dwelt there by cloud and fire. God himself had given out forgiveness and life in the institution of the sacrifices and offerings. And then David proposed to built a proper house for the Lord (after he built his own, of course). Later, David’s son Solomon completed this glorious structure and dedicated its use. And now, St. Peter aims to do the same on the mount of Transfiguration.
But today isn’t about reliving the glory days. The temple or the tabernacle, the clouds, the bright light, the tent pegs, curtains, tapestries, candelabra, basins, vestments, incense, bleating animals, the boisterous singing, and the rest were never the point. God’s glory is not contained in these. Putting up three tents isn’t going to contain God’s glory anymore than it had in the past. All the “stuff” of worship were instituted by God to point His people’s attention to what really mattered. The glory of God is and has always been in God’s Word and His Name.
With the bright cloud in the wilderness God said, “I am here for you.” This cloud is called His shekinah, His glory. Where He attaches His Word and His name, that is where God is. As Moses records, “The glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud.” But the glory days of God at Sinai were not comforting but instead terrifying. There was God, unveiled in all His full majesty. “The sight of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel.” And when Moses entered the cloud, the people were afraid. Perhaps Moses was even destroyed? Maybe the Lord would consume him?
But, for those forty days Moses was given the words he was to speak to the people. They would have their tabernacle and God would meet with them there. The tent was the place where the Lord would meet His people with His Words. He says, “There I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel.” (Ex. 25:22)
Everything was and is and continues to be about the Word the Lord speaks. This is good news for those who remember the glory days for what they truly were. This is good news to those wandering in the wilderness, wondering if God still cares about them. He locates Himself for them in mercy. He promises them, “In every place where I record My name I will come to you, and I will bless you.” (Ex. 20:24) And, “I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people.” (Lev. 26:12) Everywhere His name and His words are, there He is among them for them. And in those days He put His name and His Word in the tabernacle with the cloud.
So, we can see where St. Peter got the idea. No doubt he seeing Moses and Elijah there caused him to remember their glorious mountaintop experiences. But the Lord does not attach His Word and His Name to St. Peter’s tents. This idea is immediately swallowed up by the thick cloud that descends on them. From the bright cloud, that is from God, come the words which identify the tent already there, the one not made with hands (John 1:14). “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” Now, this is too much. The disciples’ faces are on the ground. They have nothing more to say.
As the disciples lay face first, Jesus comes to them and lifts them up. Now it is only Jesus. Everything testified by Moses and the Prophets is fulfilled in Jesus and Him alone. This time God’s words come not by way of Moses or the Prophets but by His own Son. Jesus is God’s Word and Jesus is God’s Name. The Lord Jesus saves and Him alone. This is what Moses and Elijah were doing there with Jesus.
St. Luke records that they were speaking of Jesus’s exodus, His death. Everything promised by the Old Covenant is being fulfilled in the New. Now Jesus sets His face toward Jerusalem and Mount Golgotha. Jesus draws alone with Him the twelve, the beginnings of the New Israel. The final glory of God will be revealed in His suffering and death (Jn 13:31). The final and full deliverance of all people will be won by the death of Jesus on the cross (Jn 19:30). And the words from the Transfiguration cloud and first spoken at Jesus’s Baptism will be repeated by the Gentile centurion, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Mt. 27:54)
I imagine we’d rather be back at Sinai ourselves. At least then we could point to the spectacle of cloud and thunder on the mountain or all the sacrifices and offerings in the tabernacle and say, “Look! There’s our God. He’s impressive.” That’d surely draw the crowds with St. Peter saying, “It’s so good to be here!” But Sinai’s day is done. The time of the tabernacle and temple is ended.
The Lord continues to tent among His delivered and redeemed people. He dwells with us in His Word and in the water with His Name. He dwells for you in the bread and wine, His body and blood. He has joined you to His Israel, through the Apostles’ doctrine preached and taught. He gives you “the blood of the covenant” (Ex. 24:8) which is “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” We eat and drink with God and are not destroyed. We proclaim the final glory of God as we proclaim His death for our sins. Once and for all. No more sacrifices for sin in the old tent, now that the once-and-for-all sacrifice has been done in the temple of His body, destroyed and risen again for you (John 2:19; 1:14). No need to relive the glory days, for the glory of God is here in Christ for you. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church