I truly hope I am not stealing any of Pastor Kalthoff’s thunder here. So I’m going to zoom out from the textual specifics to the end of the season. Transfiguration is the end of the season of Epiphany. It starts back on the 12th night of Christmas staring at a strange star that has risen in the east. That star asked the Magi a question: do you want to see what this means, or are you comfortable here? Their journey is one of knowing something – a king has been born – but not knowing what that means. And lots of things they assumed must be changed. They head to Jerusalem and Herod, to be told to go to Bethlehem. They are given a map, but they instead follow the renewed star, possible angel, that guides them. They offer gifts for a King, to peasants in a stable. They return home a different way. The season of Epiphany is a season of seeing exactly who this Jesus is: Babe, Israel reduced to one, stand-in for us in the Jordan, miracle worker, preacher, Son of God. And it ends with this eschatological vision of the Glory of the One and Only Son, full of grace and truth. In the season of Epiphany we have heard and seen and have come to know.
But so what? This is one of my favorite phrases of all time. Don Draper in Mad Men says it to his protégé Peggy who has found herself pregnant and unmarried in the late ‘50s. Counseling her to get rid of it he says, “You will be surprised at how fast this never happened.” And Peggy’s character, like her mentor Don, lives that out. The events of life seemingly never leaving a mark on either. It is that way with many spiritual experiences. It’s the mystery of the seed that falls on rocky soil. It springs up for a short time, but soon is gone. It has no root. There is a list of once famous people who detailed their experience and their turn away from it: Paul Verhoeven (director), Barbara Ehrenreich (author), AJ Ayer (atheist philosopher). In an instant they all knew something, and then left it and went back to their current lives. Knowing doesn’t mean willing to live. Epiphany leads us from the baby in the Manger to the Mountaintop experience. We know.
And then Jesus hits us with the question. Are you following me down this mountain?
The hymn I slotted as the sermon hymn is one of my favorite modern ones. Stanza 1 sings the story. All hymns start in the biblical text. With our voices we remember, we recall the experience, we make it real before us. Stanza 2 starts to step beyond the story. Knowing and walking down from the mount, what does Jesus mean for us? Mountaintop experiences are things we ponder in our hearts. We don’t live in them like booths. They live in us. And if we have truly gained and kept their truth – not surprised at how fast they didn’t happen – they help us walk the valley in faith. And that valley is always the shadow of death. It is always the valley of the cross. The only way out is through. And you wouldn’t want to miss it.
The last stanza is the one that gets me every time. It’s the prayer. Lord, we have come to know. We leave this mountaintop for Calvary. And we know this is good if not exactly how. We also know that we would not move from this spot, not without your help. Lord, transfigure our perception with the purest light that shines. Recast our life’s intentions to the shape of your designs. Let us find no other glory than what lies past Calvary. Guide our steps, our living, and our dying, and our rising, by your will.
We know. Do we follow?
(FYI: The Hymn Referenced is LSB 416 Swiftly Pass the Clouds of Glory. I’d post a link, but you are better off searching it yourself. Or coming to church to hear and sing it! The copyright prevents easy sharing.)