“Rise, and Have No Fear”

TransfigurationThe Transfiguration of our Lord

Matthew 17:1-9

      The disciples saw a glorious sight on the mountain…and they were afraid!  In the coming weeks they would see another glorious, hideously glorious, sight…and they were afraid.  On the third day they would see the fulfillment of all this glory in an even more glorious sight…and they were afraid!  The disciples were afraid in each of these glorious sights because they referenced it to themselves, these mortal, finite beings.  They thought about it, analyzed it, assessed it, all according to their own point of view…so they were afraid!

      Coming down from the mountain of Transfiguration, Jesus reveals to His three close disciples what the true reference point should be.  It is the point of reference that casts out the fear which comes to a disciple in the midst of things which make no sense.  Jesus says to the three…and to us, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

      The British author, C.S. Lewis, thought that heaven would be a great “A-ha” experience.  He figured that when we finally get to be with God in heaven, we will find ourselves declaring, “A-ha, now I see…” “A-ha, now I get it…”  “A-ha, that explains everything…”  All sorts of inexplicable experiences in life, all sorts of mind-boggling thoughts and life-altering events which happen to us in our life and leave us asking “Why?”; everything that made no sense in life will fall into perfect order and meaning in heaven.

      So, Lewis concluded, there is a purpose for every pain, there is a reason for every riddle.  But…short of heaven we may not understand.  In fact we cannot truly comprehend the whys and wherefores of God until heaven!

      Now Jesus tells His disciples, “[Wait] until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”  Now at that particular point, that was a strange thing for Him to say.  You would think that He’d ask them what they thought of that scene on the mountain.  You’d think He’d sit them down and explain the whole business about Moses and Elijah, how they could be alive and not dead.  But He doesn’t.  He only makes this cryptic comment—cryptic to them, but not to us—about waiting until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.

      It would have to wait until after Easter that Jesus’ disciples would get their own “A-ha” moment.  After Easter, after the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples would recall and begin to understand that this glorious event on the mountain of Transfiguration was foreshadowed in all that Jesus had been doing.

      After Easter, they would say “A-ha” and understand the crucifixion as a very good thing.  After Easter they would say “A-ha” about everything that Jesus had said and done—all those parables about the Kingdom, all those strange sayings about taking up your cross, all those curious words about dying and rising, the last are first, lose your life to gain it.  After Easter things began to make sense.  But before that culminating day, so much of it made no sense.  And when the disciples tried to make sense of the things Jesus said and did, they got it wrong!

      We, however, we post-Easter disciples, we have an incredible advantage over the Twelve.  We can read the Gospels, listen to Jesus’ words and watch events unfold, knowing all about Good Friday and Easter.  We know where it’s all going!  We know His death for our sin.  We know that His resurrection is the first of many…of ours too…who follow Him into death and resurrection.

      We know what they did not.  So in a sense we have arrived!  And yet…not yet have we been raised from the dead.  So we are only beginning.  We know all about Jesus, and yet it is a knowledge by faith not yet by sight.  So we are only beginning.  We know what Jesus has done for us, and yet we do not know the whole of our life’s experiences…they whys and wherefores of our own lives and how they fit into the life and death and resurrection of Jesus.  So we are only beginning.

      And we will not know how it all fits until, as Jesus said to the three, “the son of man is raised from the dead” …not until we sons of men, we children of God in Christ the eternal Son…not until we too are raised from the dead. Until then, we do not know, indeed, we cannot know, the full meaning of our own lives!

      So as disciples, we have arrived and yet we are always beginning.  Each day we arise in faith, a new person in Christ, a citizen of heaven…and yet each day we begin again with faith, with all the successes and failures of following Jesus.

      This is why discipleship is not some sort of personal growth regime.  Personal growth is all about measurement.  Discipleship is all about following Jesus…like Peter, James and John coming down the mountain of Transfiguration.

      Like them, we have seen a glimpse of Easter.  They on the mountain, we in our Baptism, buried with Christ and raised up with Him.  We get a glimpse of Easter in the Sacrament of the Altar, eating and drinking that medicine of immortality.  We get a glimpse of Easter as the Gospel fills our ears with  life everlasting.  But…until we are raised from the dead, until we enter heaven, what are we to make of the things which happen to us?  How are we to take the measure of faith?

      In this world, where morality is played against politics, where the economy is used to justify all sorts of high crimes and misdemeanors…what are we to say about what it all means?  When the Church in these gray and latter days can sound so rabidly militant one moment and in the next lay curled up in a ball whimpering and simpering?  When even within the Church the treasures of the Gospel are not deemed as valuable as the latest socio-psychological trends and the shifting currents of popular taste?

      Why do the innocent suffer?  Why do the wicked escape?  Why does freedom cost so much?  And if we’re free, why can’t we follow our own conscience?  Why is it easier to be self-destructive than to be self-creative?  Why do we prefer to curse the darkness rather than light a candle?  Why are we always asking why?!

      Oh yes…folks write their books and their letters to the editor.  They sit on talk shows and yammer away to anyone who will listen about what the real answer is.  But can safely wager that in time they will always be proved wrong.

      Jesus’ words on the mountain of Transfiguration, “Tell no one  the vision,” are as if He had told them, “Have no fear that this didn’t make sense.  It won’t…not yet anyway…until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”  In other words, the course of human weal and woe in this world makes no sense apart from the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  That’s why we look at everything through the lens of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

      But…His words also mean that until we too are raised, we “sons of Adam and daughters of Eve” as C.S. Lewis called us…until the day we have fully arrived, never to begin again, in the fellowship of the angels, archangels and all the company of heaven…until that Day our own lives, let alone life in this world, are not fully comprehensible.  The best explanations will only be partial…at worst, they will be way off base.  Not until we too are raised with Christ can we fully know what is and was and will be.

      So in the midst of things we cannot understand, in the midst of experiences which make no sense to us, we listen to Jesus, as the voice of God from the cloud told us.  And Jesus says to us again and again and again, “Rise, and have no fear.”

      And each day of this following Him, each step of this discipleship, He lifts us with His words…until that day we breathe our last and we hear Him say, fully and finally, “Rise!  And have no fear!”  And we hear our own voice declare, “A-ha!”