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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Something More Sure: Thoughts on the Transfiguration

Compare the account of the Transfiguration with the account of our Lord's agony in the Garden of Gethsemane:

  1. In both accounts Peter, James, and John are singled out from the other disciples (Matt 17:1; 26:37).
  2. In both cases Jesus' physical appearance changes--face was bright like the sun (Matt 17:); face red from sweating blood (Luke 20:44). 
  3. Peter speaks of Jesus' will in the Transfiguration (Matt 17:4); Jesus speaks of His Father's will in the Garden (Matt 26:39).
  4. In both cases Jesus says "Arise" (Matt 17:7; 26:46).
  5. In both accounts there is this similar phrase "While he [Peter] was yet speaking, behold a cloud . . . "(Matt 17:5); and "While He [Jesus] was yet speaking, behold Judas . . . " (Matt 26:47).
  6. At the Transfiguration, from the cloud comes a "voice" revealing the Father's love for Jesus (Matt 17:5). In the Garden, from Judas comes a "sign" betraying Jesus' love him (Matt 26:48--50). 
  7. In both accounts, Jesus is left alone at the end (Matt 17:8; 26:56). 
As impressive as this list of similarities is, what I find most striking is what is missing in Matthew's account of our Lord's agony in the Garden: (1) Moses and Elijah are conspicuously absent; (2) the Father is deafeningly silent; and (3) Peter, James, and John are so utterly uninterested in what's happening in the Garden that they fall asleep . . . three times. In other words, our Lord is in a one-way conversation in Matthew's account of the Garden, whereas in the Transfiguration, He is speaking with Moses and Elijah, with Peter, James, and John, and with the Father. What is highlighted then in the Garden is Jesus' Words. What stands out is what Jesus is saying. Listen to Him. Not My Will but Your will be done.

Thus, when our Lord spoke with Moses and Elijah on the Transfiguration mount, He spoke with them about His departure, His exodus, which He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). When our Lord's face became bright like the sun and His garments dazzling white, and He was enveloped by the bright cloud, He heard the Word of His Father: "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." And so it is that our Lord heard the testimony of three witnesses. He had the testimony of the Law and the Prophets that what He was about to do in Jerusalem was His Father's will and well-pleasing in His sight. 

And when He was in the agony of His soul with exceedingly great sorrow in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He cried out to His Father for the cup to pass, though there was no answer, thought there was no revelation from His Father above, no holy convocation with Moses and Elijah, He had His answer. For He had received it already at the Transfiguration. He had the prophetic word. He had the testimony of the Law and the Prophets as His help, His comfort, His strength and His might. He had the promise of His Father that He is loved and well-pleasing in His sight. He knew that His Father's will is good and gracious because His Father is good and gracious. 

And we have something more sure than the vision on the mount of Transfiguration. We have the prophetic word more fully confirmed. We have the Words of the Word made flesh. We have the faithful promise of Him who submits to the Father's will and word, endures suffering and death and on the third day rises. This is more sure because it confirms what the prophets had spoken. It confirms what our Lord had spoken. Listen to Him. Not My will but Your will be done. And it is so. 

We live our lives in the valleys between two mountaintops--the Mount of Transfiguration and  Mount Zion. We live our lives in the seeming silence of Gethsemane, in the vale of one-way conversations. But even this valley is a mountain, for the Gethsemane is on the Mount of Olives. And while it seems silent, it is neither voiceless nor wordless. For we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed. We have not only the Law and the Prophets, Moses and Elijah, but we also have their fulfillment. For we have Jesus, crucified but arisen. We are not alone. We are not abandoned. Jesus is with us. He will never forsake us. He never leaves us. He speaks to us in His Word. He takes away our sin. He removes the curse of death, and silences the accusation of Satan. He touches us in His Sacraments, in His risen and living Body and Blood. And He says: Arise. Come Blessed of My Father. Receive the inheritance prepared for you  from the foundation of the world. And so we listen to Him. Not our will but Your will be done, O Lord. And it is.