“It Is Good for Us to Be Here”

A Homily for the Transfiguration of our Lord

Text: Exodus 34:29-35; St. Luke 9:28-36


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Transfigured Son, the Chosen One. Amen.

“It is good for us to be here.”

Have you ever seen so something so beautiful that it overpowered you and fascinated you to the point that you couldn’t pull yourself away? Maybe you were standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon, watching the dawn break over the ocean, seeing the Rocky Mountains glow in the lays rays of the setting sun.

Or perhaps something very ordinary appeared more vibrant than ever before – a spring flower covered by a March snow, every last flake reflecting the sun’s brilliance. Maybe a flash of lightning illuminated your lawn in some new way. Or even more simply, it could have been the smile on your friends’ newborn child or looking up on a cloudless day to take sudden notice of just how blue the sky really is.

This is the sublime – a display so beautiful that it overpowers us, gives us a sense of just how big and intricate the cosmos really are, and holds us in place, demanding our attention. It’s so powerful want to fall on your knees, with our face on the ground, in sheer awe – and yet so transfixing you can’t take your eyes off the scene.

In these moments, you want to stay as long as you can, to let this moment overwhelm your senses, to take in every last ray of light, to remember every faint fragrance, to feel the gentle breeze, so that you can remember it all and escape back to that moment in the future.

“It is good for us to be here.”

What it must have been like for Moses on the mountain top, in the radiant glory of Almighty God. There he received God’s Law, the call to live faithfully in response to the Lord’s saving work, and the Almighty renewed the Covenant with the Hebrews.

Imagine what it must be like to see God’s splendor as God promises to work marvels unseen on earth – and this after parting the Red Sea and leading the people from slavery into freedom! Scripture tells us that the divine majesty of this holy moment was so overpowering as to change Moses’ appearance – that his face shoe with God’s reflected presence even after he left Sinai.

“It is good for us to be here.”

Put yourself in Peter’s shoes – just for a moment. Try to imagine such divine splendor: the Son of God, the One Through Whom All Things Were Made, Light from Light, the Logos, transfigured. The display is so powerful that it knocks the three disciples over; it is so powerful that it terrifies them but so captivating that they cannot turn away to flee. It’s a display more vibrant than a million sunrises, more expansive than the entire night sky, more delicate than a single rose. It’s a sight only a handful of people in all of history have been permitted to see.

And Peter knew not what to say. Who among us could? What poet “could frame [that] fearful symmetry?”

“Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings” and stay in this holy moment. Let us stay on the mountaintop and dwell in the glory of God forever.

And then comes the voice, a sound like rolling thunder, a voice so loud that you feel it as much as you hear it, repeating the words from Christ’s Baptism: “This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.”

The voice reverberated off the hill sides, and when that last echo rolled in, the scene was gone. Jesus stood alone, just a man wearing normal clothes, in front of three startled disciples. And they walked down the mountain.

“It is good for us to be here.”

Yes, even right here in this place and in this time – ordinary though it may seem. Because here, Christ is really present. Here, bread and wine are transformed into the Very Body and the Precious Blood of our Lord. Here, we hear the Word proclaimed. Here, we join with the choirs of angels in singing hymns of praise. Here, you could, just for a moment, forget how violent and chaotic the world is. Here, just for a moment, you may forget whether you are in heaver or on earth. Open your eyes and see anew.

Try to catch a glimpse of the heavenly splendor that invades this place.

Try to see Christ present at the Altar and in the person sitting next to you.

“It is good for us to be here.”

But Moses could not stay atop Mount Sinai. The people were in the wilderness, yearning for the Land of Promise, already wandering astray, and needed a prophetic guide.

“It is good for us to be here.” But the disciples cannot stay on the mountaintop. Eight days before ascending to his Transfiguration, Christ told the disciples what would happen: that he would be handed over to a lynch mob and hung up on a tree. Because even on the mountaintop, Jesus cannot escape what is to come. Standing there in his full glory, he discusses with Moses and Elijah what “he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” And as they come down from the mountain and the spiritual high, Christ and the disciples meet a child possessed by a demon. Christ’s saving work is needed in the rest of the world.

We sit here today on this mountain top on the edge of the Lenten season, and it is good for us to be here, but we cannot stay for long. Last years’ palms are withered, ready to be consumed by the flame. Our Alleluias echo forth but will, by Wednesday, fall silent. Our feasting will turn to fasting, and our festal white vestments will give way to penitential purple. Soon we will wear openly on our foreheads that ashen reminder of our mortality and sin.

And so yes, it is good for us to be in this place, praying and singing and celebrating together in the Real Presence of Christ’s Body and Blood. But we cannot stay here because outside these walls is a world plagued by demonic powers, a suffering world that needs our help. There are people out there who need us – who need the hands of Christ to feed them, who need the ears of Christ to hear their cries, who need the mouth of Christ to speak words of repentance, who need the eyes of Christ to see when the rest of the world looks past them.

We will soon enter that deserted place where we are tempted to silence and inaction, tempted to view our neighbors as threatening strangers rather than beloved siblings, tempted to turn a blind eye to the suffering of others.

So take a deep breath. Take in the radiant glory of today.

Take comfort and be nourished by the majesty of the Transfigured Christ that you may more faithfully serve him when we depart this mountaintop.

And get ready for our sojourn through the long Lenten wilderness that we may arrive in Zion, shouting out “Hosanna to the Son of David!” and letting our paschal Alleluias ring forth all the more loudly.


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