It’s all about the glory, this story. It’s all about the glory. It’s a pretty if confusing scene that confronts us in this morning’s Gospel reading. Theologians whine about it all the time. Pastors whine about it all the time. I have whined about it in the past. And you, too, have whined about it. Rather than whine about the confusing details of the story which spurt off in several different directions, let’s focus on what does make sense, what does illuminate faith and faith’s God, and that is the glory. This is a glory story, somewhat like the story of Jesus’ Baptism, when God first spoke from a cloud and claimed Jesus as His Son in glory.
Only today the glory takes over the story. In many of our Gospel lessons the divinity of Jesus is only hinted at, alluded to, for it is hidden by human misapprehension and limits. But today, the glory of God glistens, shocks with its white light intensity, makes everyday clothing and ordinary faces dazzling to the eye. Faces shine not with sweat but with God’s own reflected light, for that is what glory is, the very revelation of God Himself.
Glory is referred to in the Bible over 400 times in both noun and verb forms. Glory, the noun, is defined in various ways as honor, attractiveness, weightiness, and a state of splendor or greatness. That might seem peculiar to us as we don’t necessarily see those things in the light at the top of the mountain of today’s Gospel reading or the light of that singular star that shone over the infant Jesus in Bethlehem. That story, the story of the bright light of that singular star that led the Magi to the young Prince of Peace began the season of Epiphany and the bright light of the Transfiguration brings it to an end. There’s clue number one. The second clue is this, the word “epiphany” means revelation or manifestation, and for the whole six to eight weeks of the season we see revealed, in every Gospel reading, the nature of the infant king born at Christmas. Glory, then, is the revelation or the manifestation of the immediate presence of God and the whole of His attributes in brilliant light. Now, brilliant light is not the only way the immanent, weighty presence of God is made known to us, but I’ll bet it is the clearest and easiest way for God to illuminate Himself and grab our attention.
Whether I’m right or wrong about that, we’ve certainly seen it at work in the readings on Sundays after Christmas. Bit by bit, miracle by miracle, each sermon building on those told before, it becomes increasingly harder to “see” the adult Jesus as anything other than Who He claims to be, the long-awaited Messiah Who is both Son of God and Son of Man. It all culminates at the Transfiguration, where Jesus at prayer suddenly glows a dazzling white. This is the kind of white you can get in the desert when the sun is harshly reflected off of rock and water. But this brilliant light is generated by Jesus, it is not just glare. Rather, in Jesus at this moment, just before He begins His final journey to Jerusalem and the cross, what He has said about His saving nature is validated by God’s own work and words. At the Transfiguration we see God the Father, the God we cannot see, made visible in Jesus, the incarnate God we do see. Jesus is the glory of God.
We need a little more context to continue. Our Gospel reading begins with the words, “Now about eight days after these sayings, ….” Those sayings were Jesus’ own predictions of His death and resurrection, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” These predictions were immediately followed by a call that all who would be His disciples must take up the cross and follow Him. Now here is aspect of this story that I find real interesting and even kind of upsetting. Jesus tells His disciples, His friends, that from this point He is headed to Jerusalem, not on some pilgrimage or tourist venture, but to die. And the disciples say nothing in response. Peter says nothing, James says nothing, John says nothing, and they continue to say nothing even as they wake and see the greatest prophets the world has ever known, Moses and Elijah, stand next to Jesus and talk about His departure and what He is to accomplish in Jerusalem. Finally, when Peter does respond, his response appears irrelevant. “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah” — not knowing what he said.”
Peter may not know in much detail what the vignette in front of him signifies. But he signals, even if indirectly, that he did indeed hear what Jesus had to say about His death and resurrection, and he most certainly understood what Jesus meant by His disciples taking up the cross. Peter could be a little slow at times but this he got. To follow Jesus you have to be willing to suffer like Jesus. Peter had no interest in following Jesus to His death, and he had no interest, in following Jesus to his own death. It may have been a very simple equation for Peter. No journey to Jerusalem, no death of Jesus. No death of Jesus, no suffering on the part of Jesus’ disciples. So, let’s build three tents or booths for the big guys and hang around up here on the mountain top basking in their glory.
Only it’s not their glory; it’s God’s glory, a glory made visible in His Son, which is only reflected from the faces and the persons of two who suffered much for God’s people Israel. The idea that a human face can shine with God’s glory is not new to us. In Exodus 34, after Moses returns from the mountain his face shines so brightly with the glory of God that he must wear a veil to protect the people he leads. Those whom God calls to Him will reflect some part of His glory, and isn’t this what our calling is as Baptized children of God, to do that which leads others to see in us a bit of divine glory they would like to have for themselves?
Clearly, glory is not something we acquire for ourselves like a new set of golf clubs or snorkel gear. It is a consequence of being in God’s presence, of bending our wills to His, of serving the heavenly calling He has bestowed on each of us. We are no mere puppets! We are valued and esteemed by our Maker, and we see that in the love we share with Him and between us as brothers and sisters of Christ, all together children of the heavenly Father. We may see it also, revealed in part, when we hear God’s voice within us, or in prayer, or in His Word, and listen to Him, so that we may serve Him Who went to the cross for us, and glorify our Father in doing so. In a few minutes, little Aubree will be made one of the children of the heavenly Father with us, and in her initiation into the kingdom of God and in the washing away of her sin she will, to those who see with the eyes of faith, shine with God’s own glory. And we will, God willing, watch that reflected glory grow as she grows in years and grace.