“Going Out in a Blaze of Glory”
“Going out in a blaze of glory”. What do you think of when you hear that phrase? A race car driver, crashing his car on the final lap? A soldier, charging into the fight, shouting his battle-cry? An astronaut whose rocket explodes shortly after lift-off? Maybe you think of Elijah or Moses, or even Jesus! Maybe, or maybe not.
Today is Transfiguration Day. It is the climax of the Epiphany season – the season of revealing light – in which the spotlight has been shining on the babe of Bethlehem, and our readings have been shedding light on just who this God-man Jesus Christ really is.
From his Baptism, when God declared, “This is my son”
to the visit of the wise men who confessed him as king,
to the wedding at Cana where he showed his power as the true bridegroom, to the many healings and miracles that were signs of his power….
All this leads up to his transfiguration,
up to the mountain where his glory shone like flashes of lightning,
where the great men of old came to testify and “hold converse high” and where God confirmed again, “This is my Son”.
And once Jesus gets to the mount of transfiguration, it’s all downhill from there. Downhill to Jerusalem, to arrest, to suffering, to the cross, to death.
The Transfiguration of our Lord is an important event.
Transfiguration Sunday puts us, liturgically speaking, halfway between Christmas and Good Friday. Here we are at the mountaintop, so to speak. And after this, it’s all down hill to Jerusalem, and to the other hill where Jesus would be crucified.
The mountains are in the background today, as Moses stood on Mt. Sinai to receive God’s law, and on Mt. Nebo to view the promised land. Elijah’s great competition with the prophets of Baal took place on a mountain (Carmel), and he too heard God’s voice on Mt. Sianai (Horeb). Now, both great men of old appear on the mountain again, this time with Jesus Christ in glorified form, once again to hear the voice of the Lord.
Glory. That’s another important idea today. We sinners, who so like to glorify ourselves, we wouldn’t mind being the center of all things. That’s what we do when we put ourselves before the Lord and before others. We imagine our own little mountain with ourselves as “king of the hill”. As if it’s all about me and my wants and my great qualities, and my glorious glory. What a sham. What a farce. We sinners are the furthest thing from God’s holiness. We deserve a pit, not a mountain.
But God glories in dealing with us sinners, according to his mercy in Christ. Just as Peter and the others, fools that they were, sinful men in the presence of glory – so too we find our pitiful selves at the top of the mountain today. And just as Jesus didn’t zap Peter for even being there, but had purposefully brought him to see such glory, so too Jesus’ glory is made know to us and for us today.
The Transfiguration account appears in 3 of the 4 gospels. And while Mark and Matthew don’t disagree with Luke, our reading today adds a few extra details. One of those is the content of the conversation Jesus had with Moses and Elijah. He was talking about his departure. Literally, his “going out”.
The Greek word for “going out” is actually “exodus”. It seems appropriate, then, to have both Moses and Elijah there with him on the mount. Each o them knew something about “exodus”.
Moses lived through THE Exodus. When God’s people got to “go out” of Egypt, “in a blaze of glory”. Well, more water than fire, actually, as “Israel’s host triumphant go, through the wave that drowned the foe”. Moses led the people to the promised land… out of bondage, and into glory, so to speak.
But Moses himself was not allowed to set foot inside the boundaries of that land – until he meets Jesus here on the mount.
Elijah knew something about going out in a blaze of glory too. His departure from this world was unique in all of history, as God sent a fiery chariot down to take Elijah heavenward. Elijah’s “exodus” was perhaps one of the most spectacular of all time. But it was surely less impressive than standing in the presence of the transfigured Christ himself.
Jesus’ own departure was at hand. He had an exodus to face, and it would not be in a blaze of glory. It would be in the shame of a cross. Christ, here glorified on the Transfiguration Mountaintop would soon face ultimate humiliation on the Hill of Calvary. He who shined and flashed like lightning itself would soon see the very sun darkened as he faced his last hours.
And yet in the humility of the cross, we see God’s true glory. His power which is made perfect in weakness. His justice meets his mercy. Life won by death. There as Jesus “goes out”, he brings us in to his Father’s arms. Exiled sinners bound to be cast out of his presence become sons and daughters, and are given a place in the Father’s house. His “exodus” from life is our “exodus” from sin, and our entrance into eternal bliss.
What will be your exodus? How will you go out from this world? While most of us would like to die peacefully in our sleep, some wouldn’t mind “going out in a blaze of glory”. Perhaps it’s best that we don’t get to choose how and when we go. But it’s not as important how or when we go as where and to whom. We’re going out from this vale of tears, into the arms of our Savior. We’re going out from this poor reflection, as in a mirror, to see our Lord face to face. We’re going to the heavenly Jerusalem, where God will wipe every tear from our eyes. That’s the promised land that makes our exodus a joyful one, no matter when and where and how it happens.
The Transfiguration of our Lord, Jesus Christ, is a powerful witness to those three disciples, and to all of us, about who Jesus is, and what he’s come to do. If we “Listen to Him” as the voice of the Father commands, we will hear great and good news. Listen to him speak with Moses and Elijah about his departure, which makes our departure so different. Listen to him as he goes to Jerusalem for that final blaze of glory in the shame of the cross.
Listen to him as he gives his own body and blood with simple bread and wine. Listen to those words – “for the forgiveness of your sins”. Those words spoken long ago but still echoing with the same power and authority. Listen to him. And then, make your exodus from this place, from his house, from his presence. Go forth in peace knowing that your sins truly are forgiven in Jesus Christ.