SERMON: Transfiguration by John Mason Neale

Transfiguration by John Mason Neale

For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty when we were with him in the holy mount. (2 Peter 1:16, 18)

Such an evening as this should teach us something of the glorious sight we keep in mind this day. When we were looking at those long lines of dark-brown gold that lay so quietly in the west, and at the intense brightness beneath them, where the sun had gone down, we might have remembered him who was as at this time transfigured before his disciples; when his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And we might have looked on to that day when, if by God’s grace we are counted worthy to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, our own bodies will be as his body was, glorious beyond the power of our hearts now to imagine.

How much there is that we might think of again and again in the mystery of today! Moses, and Elias, and the three disciples were there. The body of Moses, about which Michael the Archangel had contended with Satan, that body which had been buried by God in a valley over against Beth-peor, no man knowing its resting-place, appeared in glory. The body of Elias, which had been taken up by a chariot of fire and horses of fire, returned once more to Earth. The giver of the Law, and the greatest of prophets, came to bear witness to him that was maker of the Law, and the inspirer of the prophets. Now was fulfilled that which was written by Isaiah, – “Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of Hosts shall reign in Mount Sion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously.”

And what did they talk of? If we had not been told, how different a conversation we should have imagined! We should perhaps have thought that they would speak of that kingdom which the Lord had come on Earth to establish; that kingdom which shall never be destroyed, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail; that kingdom which shall be from sea to sea, and from the flood unto the world’s end. Nothing less. “They appeared in glory, and spake of his decease.” To talk of death in the height of this glory! To talk of a shameful death, – a death of agony, – amidst such brightness as the world had never before seen! Yes: but the text does not end so. They “spake of his decease which he should accomplish.” What a wonderful word! When do we speak thus? We say that a man accomplishes deliverance from death, but to accomplish death itself, who would thus talk? It tells us how freely, how earnestly, our Lord set about his Passion, according to that saying of his: “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished.” And still further: “They spake of his decease which he should accomplish in Jerusalem.” Now Jerusalem means the Vision of Peace. For it was by his death that he reconciled man to God. And that indeed was a glorious subject for a season of glory. This was a brighter and better vision than Moses had, when he gat him to the top of Pisgah, and beheld all the land which God had promised to his people. This was a nobler prospect than Elijah had, when the chariot was bearing him up above the clouds, and his mantle fell from off him. “They appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish in Jerusalem.”

Saint Peter would speak: “It is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles, one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.” No, good Peter. This is not what we want. We want not three tabernacles, but one mansion. We want no tabernacles that can be taken down and removed; we want a house, not made with hands, that can never be shaken. And we only want one. There is but one hiding –place from the wind, one covert from the tempest, one Ark. Our Lord Jesus Christ is all this; and he is one.

Now notice that in our Lord’s life on Earth the three persons of the Blessed Trinity were twice manifested together. At his baptism once. There was the Father in the voice: the Son in human flesh: the Holy Ghost in a bodily shape like a dove. At his Transfiguration again. The Father, as before, in the voice: the Son in a glorified body: the Holy Ghost in the cloud. And why was this?

Our Lord’s baptism was a type of our own regeneration; and that is brought to pass by all the persons of the Godhead: by the Father that made; by the Son that redeemed; by the Holy Ghost that sanctifies. Our Lord’s Transfiguration was a type of our own resurrection; and there we also have the act of each person of the Trinity. These bodies were the work of God’s hands; they were fed with the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, (according to that saying, “Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life; and I will raise him up again at the last day”) and they were the temples of the Holy Ghost. Therefore the Trinity was manifested at Christ’s baptism and Transfiguration, because each of its three blessed persons is concerned in the work of our baptism and resurrection.

“This is my beloved Son; hear him.” Moses speaks; but hear him. Elias speaks; but hear him. The prophets and the Law tell of him: unless we see him in all, they are useless to us. Moses and Elias were as it were the vessels: He was the fountain. He gave them their fullness, and of that fullness they ministered to others.

But now what is this? “The disciples fell on their faces: Jesus touched them, and said, Arise! And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.” Here is a great mystery. They fell on their faces to the ground: there the time is signified when we must lie down in the grave. “Jesus touched them, and said, Arise!” – There is set forth that day when all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live. And in that they saw no man save Jesus after they were raised, we are taught that, after our own resurrection, he will be All in all. There will be no Law then, – no Prophecy then: we shall see Jesus face to face, beholding him as he is. He will remain, when all else is passed away.

Now, O Peter, it is time for thee to go down from the mountain. Thou must yet for some short years bear the burden and heat of the day. Thou must preach the Word, must be instant in season and out of season, must reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with all long-suffering and doctrine. The time will come when thou shalt have, not a tabernacle on Mount Tabor, but a mansion – one of the many mansions – in the Kingdom of Heaven.

And we, if we now desire to see his glory, must do as the disciples did. They went up into a high mountain apart. We must try and get above this world, apart by ourselves, at a distance from the troubles and cares of the Earth, and fix our hearts on that land where he now is. I saw this morning, soon after sunrise, that all the hollows and valleys of the country round were filled with thick white mist, but the hills were clear and bright in the sunlight. We are too much like men living in such valleys, surrounded with the fog of this world, unable to lift up our eyes to the brightness of the everlasting hills. It ought not to be so: above all, it ought not to be so with you, who cannot have much longer, in the very nature of things, to dwell in this world. Rather, let that be true, by the grace of the Holy Ghost, of which Saint Paul writes: –”But we all, with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” That so, as he was transfigured, while he dwelt here, in Heavenly glory, we, while we are yet in the flesh, may be transfigured to his image!

And now to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, be all honor and glory forever.

Amen.

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