Our Exodus, Luke 9:28-36, The Transfiguration of Our Lord, March 3, 2019
Transfiguration Sunday officially marks the end of the season of Epiphany. Next Sunday we journey down off the mountain and through the valley of Lent, from glory to suffering. But the glory of what is revealed today, on this mount, shines through the upcoming Sundays, reminding us that the One who suffers such indignities is Himself the one true and only Son of God.
Here at Good Shepherd, we have practiced the tradition of omitting alleluias for all the days between Transfiguration and Easter. The knowledge of this somberness heightens our joy this Transfiguration Sunday. Our awe and worship, our alleluias, are always directed to Jesus, our God, whose divinity radiates through His flesh.
Today, Jesus’ appearance, and the Father’s testimony of Jesus’ identity as the divine Son is wondrously revealed. Moses and Elijah join Jesus and His disciples on the mountain, but the focus is uniquely on Christ. The Father calls us to listen to His Son, on account that we are made co-heirs with the King in His glory.
Christ revealed His glory to His disciples that they might be strengthened to proclaim His cross and resurrection, and with all the faithful look forward to the glory of life everlasting. We, too, find strength and hope in Him as our soul longs for the day of the Lord with the assurance that our exalted Lord, who sits enthroned upon the cherubim, is a forgiving and loving God.
Parallels of our Gospel text this morning are also found in Matthew (17) and Mark (9). The accounts complement one another. Yet summary of what Moses and Elijah discussed with Jesus is notable only in the contribution that Luke brings us this morning.
Moses and Elijah are representative of the Law and the Prophets, which find their fulfillment in Christ. They discuss with Jesus His upcoming departure. By His death and resurrection, Jesus will bring about an even greater deliverance than took place in the Exodus from Egypt.
Wouldn’t you just love to have been a fly on the wall and have overheard that conversation? Some conversations beg to be overheard, don’t they? Oh, you know what I am talking about. Like that time you were at that party in a friend’s home, maybe it was an NCAA Final Four party. You were standing by the table in the kitchen, innocently dipping your chip into the salsa bowl, and you heard someone whisper, “Did you hear she’s leaving him?” Your ears perked up.
Or you were standing in line at the bank, minding your own business, and the man in front of you insisted to the teller there must be a mistake. There is no way his account could have been accessed by someone else. You inconspicuously leaned forward. You are not normally an eaves-dropper, and you do not make a habit of sticking your nose in other people’s business, but some conversations just beg to be overheard.
The conversation between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah at the Transfiguration would be a lot like that. There was a lot happening on that mountain, you know, probably much more than Werner would like to hear in a single sermon. Rather than trying to fully address Jesus’ transfigured appearance, and the engulfing cloud and its voice, and Peter’s camping plans, and every other detail, this morning I am just going to narrow our focus to one part of the text. I can’t think of a better candidate, than the conversation which took place between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. It is one of those conversation that just begs to be overheard.
We do not know much about the specifics of how the conversation went. Luke does not give us a verbatim, but he says more about it than Matthew or Mark, which makes it notable. He tells us how Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus concerning “His departure.” The Greek brings more to mind. They talked about His “exodus”.
Moses knew a little something about the Exodus. Elijah also knew something about departures, just check 2nd Kings Chapter 2. Perhaps these exits came up in their conversation. We do not know exactly. But one exodus did come up, and it was Jesus’.
Of course, this was not the first time Jesus talked about His exodus in Jerusalem. Earlier in the same chapter Jesus spoke of His death and resurrection (9:21-22). He also spoke about the death of all who would follow Him (9:23-25). The connection between these departures and the Old Testament Exodus are noticeable and worth exploring.
As God’s central act of deliverance before Jesus, the Exodus from Egypt meant liberation from bondage and hope for a future. Jesus’ exodus in Jerusalem accomplished this, and more for all who depart in Him. Here is where our liturgical context comes into the picture. In just three days we will be reflecting on our own death, our own “exodus”, on Ash Wednesday.
Which brings us back to the conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Not being that fly on the wall, I wonder how that conversation might have gone. I am definitely not attempting to add anything to the Bible, but my imagination begins to take over as I think of the things they might have discussed and how the conversation might have went.
Perhaps Jesus was telling Moses and Elijah about the difficulties He was preparing to endure in His passion. Maybe they asked Jesus how He was going to do it.
Perhaps Jesus was telling them about how the disciples, including the three with Him, would all run away. About how they would promise to stay with Him, but then how their fears would rise up and about how He would suffer alone.
Perhaps Jesus was telling them about why He was willing to endure the coming sufferings.
Maybe He spoke of His love for creation, His love for all people, His great desire to restore all things.
Maybe He let Moses and Elijah in on the secret, that by dying and rising He would conquer death for all time. Maybe He was helping the two of them see this had been His plan from the very beginning and how they were part of a much larger story.
Perhaps Jesus was speaking with Moses and Elijah about how His departure, His death and resurrection, would affect our departure, yours and mine.
Most of us do not think about our departure, our exodus, very often. We are too busy living, to spend much time thinking about dying. But death has a way of forcing its way into the conversation. It should not be hard to think of examples of how death and its unwelcome intrusion has forced its way into the life of our congregation.
Most of you know how death forced its way into my life just a few short weeks ago. And because we are a family I’m sure you have been reminded of how much you miss your loved ones who have died. The thought of death of those close to us is never far. But most of us don’t spend much time thinking about our own death.
This Sunday as we prepare for Lent maybe it’s a good opportunity for us to think about our own death or more importantly, dying well. What do I mean “dying well”? As we look forward to Jesus’ return, and as we come face to face with our own impending exodus, we can think about the conversation in our text as it proclaims the promises of Jesus’ death and resurrection for our eternal deliverance.
This divine Jesus will head down the hill to climb another hill in Jerusalem with a cross on His back, but we are to remember that this divine Jesus, this friend of Moses and Elijah, this dazzling “True God-True Man” is the One who carries that miserable piece of wood for us, for you. His divinity really is what makes that death meaningful. Another Jewish peasant killed by the Romans is hardly noteworthy. But the Son of God dying, that has cosmic significance!
Peter wants to make a shelter for Jesus and Moses and Elijah, but Jesus will say that He goes to Heaven to prepare a place for us (Jn 14). Peter wants heaven on earth, but far better than what Peter has in mind, Jesus has in mind something even bigger. God will not be contained by a mere earthly tent. And yet He condescends to dwell in us; as Paul says in Galatians, Christ lives in us (2:20).
As Jesus stands on the threshold of Heaven, transcending both dimensions, we get a glimpse into what is in store for each of us. And we are admonished not to hang onto our tents here on earth because God has something even better in mind. The tents of which Peter speaks without knowing what he says, would be a poor substitute for what God really has in mind for us.
The Exodus was when God liberated the Israelites from bondage and slavery. They passed through the waters of the Red Sea and He fed them in their pilgrimage through the wilderness until they reached the Promised Land.
Luke wants us to know that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are talking about us too, not just Jesus’ impending death and resurrection and ascension, although that is also critically important to this story. These events of the same God who was at work to lead the fathers through the desert, is also leading us “out.”
When the Disciples gathered with Jesus on that night in which He was betrayed they were celebrating the Passover, the Jewish commemoration-festival of the Exodus event. Jesus gives them the opportunity to radically re-imagine the Passover. He is the Passover lamb! The Exodus was really about Him. He is not remembering the Exodus; the Exodus is remembering Him.
The moment suddenly breaks. The cloud, Elijah and Moses are seen no more. Jesus is not glowing like the product of some nuclear reaction. He is just plain old Jesus, the carpenter’s son and the itinerant preacher that Peter, James and John have been following. They have gotten a glimpse of Jesus, and now there is no mistake. They can never see Him the same way again. Now He has laid aside the glory, the power, the majesty. He walks not a road that goes straight up to heaven from here, but takes a serious descending detour through a cross, a grave, and hell. He will take up His glory again, but He won’t do it without you, without going all the way to humanity’s bitter end, for you. Amen.