Worship preview for 2/11
This week we come to the end of the Epiphany church year season. Throughout the past weeks of this season, the lessons have been describing to us the identity of the Child who was born in Bethlehem at Christmas. We have seen Jesus as the true God. Today, on the final Sunday of the Epiphany season, we receive the greatest revelation of Jesus as true God when his glory shines through and the disciples see him as he really is in an event called the ‘Transfiguration’ (which means, “to transform into something more beautiful or elevated”).
The Transfiguration is a mountaintop experience that foreshadows the mountaintop experience of Easter. It closes the season of Epiphany, and next week we head down the mountain into the valley of Lent. This is the last week we sing “Alleluia” in church until Easter.
Immediately prior to this glorious event, Jesus had been talking with the disciples about his rapidly approaching Passion. He knew that soon he would begin his fateful last journey to Jerusalem. The disciples had difficulty dealing with this, sharing the common Jewish expectation of a Messiah who would demonstrate earthly pomp and power. A suffering Messiah was alien to their thinking. The Transfiguration served the purpose of giving them a glimpse of Jesus’ true identity, something for them to remember on the dark days that lay ahead of them as their Master would be arrested, tried, sentenced, and executed.
The other readings for the day emphasize God working through his servants to proclaim his glory. In the Old Testament reading from Exodus, the story is told of Moses’ radiant face as he descended the mountain as a result of coming face to face with God’s glory. The Epistle lesson speaks of the Spirit working through the ministry of the apostles who by their work proclaim the glory of God in Christ.
The Hymn of the Day is “O Wondrous Type” (ELH 223). The final two lines of this hymn share the church’s continued prayer as we wait for Christ’s return:
“We pray Thee, bring us by Thy grace
To see Thy glory face to face.”
The Gospel: Mark 9:2-9
In the Gospel lesson we are given a glimpse of the true glory of Jesus. He is true God; and this is the glory we shall share with him when we, like Moses and Elijah, see him face-to-face in heaven.
In the section immediately prior to this text, St. Mark describes the unwillingness of the disciples to come to terms with Jesus’ clear teaching about his approaching suffering and death. Now on the high mountain, Peter, James, and John are witnesses of his transfiguration, as he appears with the glory that was his before becoming human flesh (John 17:5). Moses and Elijah appear talking with him. St. Luke tells us that they spoke about his coming suffering and death at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). Peter still seems to miss the point and opts for a prolonged stay for all three by building dwellings! The voice of God the Father says, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” This statement from the Father repeats the statement he made to Jesus at his Baptism at the beginning of the Epiphany season: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). The Transfiguration was an important part of the disciples’ spiritual education and an important proof of Jesus’ identity for us and the early church (John 1:14. 2 Peter 1:16-18).
The Old Testament: Exodus 34:29-35 Moses had seen God directly when he received the law on Mt. Sinai. Afterwards, his face glowed with God’s glory and the people were afraid to come near him. So at their request, Moses veiled his face. In our sinful natures, we are unable to look at God’s holy face, so he veiled his divine glory by becoming flesh in Jesus. Even more glorious than the law Moses received from God is the gospel, which proclaims the way of salvation through Christ.
The Epistle lesson: 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
St. Paul mentions that the people of Israel could not cope with the reflected glory of the Lord shining from Moses’ face. Their fear came from their natural disposition towards sin. To have a veiled understanding today means to attempt to earn heaven through the keeping of Moses’ law. But Christ has come to remove this veil—to show that the primary purpose of the law is to make us admit we cannot earn heaven, but must rely on his grace. With the veil withdrawn, Christians, though seeing God’s glory imperfectly, grow progressively into the restored image of God until their final glorification. That is why Paul says that he does not grow discouraged, despite his human limitations, as he proclaims the Word of God.