The Transfiguration of Our Lord
“Rabbi, it is good that we are here…” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Yes Peter said it, but the words defied reason! “Tis good, Lord, to be here.” But there was no evidence in his sight to suggest such a thought. Peter was terrified. The words just kind of fell out of his mouth.
The communion of saints had suddenly ceased to be a pious abstraction. It was right there on the mountain. And they could see it! Jesus. Moses. Elijah. Peter. James. John. The saints of heaven, the saints of earth, together around Jesus. And Peter was terrified. So terrified, he didn’t know what he was saying. “It’s good to be here!”
Ah, but faith knew! Faith knew and declared what Peter’s own senses denied. It was good, very good, to be there. But until the Son of Man was raised from the dead, Peter didn’t know how good it was! Until Easter, well…all of this was just too weird.
It would have been for us as well. Oh, we may accept that one day we will go to join the saints of heaven, but we too would get very uncomfortable with the saints of heaven coming to join us, especially if they joined us visibly! We’d be as terrified as Peter.
Tis good, Lord, to be here. That’s what Faith says this morning…even if our senses may say other things. It is precisely these other things of our senses that clearly remind us how the communion of saints on earth, how our life in this world, always remains simul iustus et peccator, simultaneously saint and sinner. That’s not just Martin Luther’s nice, pious phrase. We can see the reality of it.
The Church on earth makes the headlines because of its scandals. The next moment it’s in the news again, going nose to nose with the President. And maybe we’re afraid of where it will all lead. Maybe we don’t much care. Yet faith says, “Tis good, Lord, to be here.”
Today is another gathering of our congregation. Perhaps our own sinful nature has been tempted this morning to forego this weekly gathering in order to pursue our own little kingdoms. We’re ambivalent. We’re annoyed. Sometimes angered. Rarely frightened. Yet faith declares, “Tis good, Lord, to be here.”
Even in our state of Wisconsin…having endeavored for so long to be the progressive light of the world, we’re discovering that we have attracted a lot of bugs. Suddenly there’s so much opportunity, but so little consensus on what to do with it. And some are afraid. And some are angry. Some demonstrate noisily. Some maneuver surreptitiously. Yet in all of it, despite all of it, faith still declares, “Tis good, Lord, to be here.” Faith declares what is denied to sense.
Oh, it would be easy and understandable in the present hour for the American Church to retreat into what it does so well these days—entertain—while Rome burns. That would be understandable as life in this world seems to have entered a long, dark Lent of an unknown length of time…with many a fearful cross standing between us and the kind of Easter in which all the pieces fall into place, some future day when everything comes together with the clarity of hindsight. There is so much now to fill disciples with fear!
Our Transfiguration hymn which we sang before the sermon this morning, strikes me as a bit ironic. “O wondrous type, O vision fair.” It’s a gutsy hymn! But the words of this hymn are set to the tune of the Agincourt Carol that comes from the days of the 100 Years War, back in the late 14th and early 15th Centuries.
England’s Henry V successfully hacked and slashed his way to victory over the French. The original text of this tune sings, “Our King went forth to Normandy, / With grace and might of chivalry, / There God for him wrought marvelously, / Wherefore England may call and cry, / Deo gracias Anglia redde pro victoria! (Thanks be to God, England, for the victory!)” Jolly good, what!
But we sing that ancient battle hymn today, because a much greater than Henry goes before us. Yet our King goes forth from the mountain of Transfiguration with a grace and might of a very different, hidden sort of chivalry. But what Christ hath wrought by His dreadful fight upon that greater St. Crispin’s Day we call Good Friday, oh, it is marvelous indeed. Deo gratias! Thanks be to God!
And yet…it must be said, the day of victory is not yet. Yes, on the one hand, the victory is now, ours now, as Easter has taken place in history. But at the same time, not yet ours, in all of its fullness, not yet for us the new heavens and earth, not yet for us the resurrection of the dead, not yet for us we saints without our sin, not yet for us the final Easter.
So now…now we disciples fear. Now we scowl. Now we rage. Now we entertain. Now we don’t know what to say. But faith knows. Faith always knows, and faith declares what it knows. Despite our own senses, we find the words spilling from our mouths, “It is good, Lord, for us to be here.” Together in the congregation called St. Peter’s, together with so many, many more in the communion of saints through time and eternity. It is good to be here!
And particularly, though we say it with more difficulty, it is good to be here in this time, in this place in history, with all that is unfolding, fearfully, in this time and place. Because here and now, despite what our senses tell us, despite whatever makes us afraid, despite any number of other emotions…here and now is the Christ with whom the pieces fall in place, the Christ in whom everything always comes together. And that is so good. Deo gratias! Thanks be to God…Christ has won for us the victory!