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  • Writer's pictureBishop Peter F. Hansen

The King in His Beauty

St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church

Bishop Peter F. Hansen

Sermon for the Feast of the Transfiguration, August 6, 2023

“Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may be permitted to behold the King in his beauty.”

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

OUR CREEDS DECLARE that the Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. One, because there is only one permanent gathering together of all believers in Christ, that will rise to meet Him in the clouds and our unity will be in Him. Holy, because we are chosen, blessed, sanctified and set apart from the world. Catholic, because one doctrine from the beginning has held us by our vows to the Trinity of Persons, and unity of the Godhead, the dual nature of Jesus and His miraculous life. And Apostolic, because our first members, and all members ever since, have believed the report of eyewitnesses. This faith did not arise from dusty chambers of religious scholars, aiming to invent the best system of belief. Nor did it echo the fevered sleep of visionaries with wild tales of Olympus. Our faith rests on the testimony of real-life events that happened to a band of fishermen, simple Galilean laborers who saw and touched and held and ate with the Lord of Life, and some even saw Him on the mountaintop filled with light and speaking with patriarchs of long past.

All the miracles of Jesus, the healings of lifelong handicaps, blindness, bedevilment; His walking on water; feeding thousands with scraps; the water made wine; and raising dead people to life make a case for a man who God uses. But when they saw Jesus risen from the grave, having been assured that He was truly killed on a Roman cross, pierced in hands, feet and heart—this one walks into a closed room and greets them smiling: this eyewitness report held a message for all the world. Jesus is the Lord your God. Worship Him. Trust Him. And listen to His witnesses. They’re willing to die for this testimony. Christ lives and He is ever living. This is the amazing good news that spread through our planet in those early centuries. The Apostolic Church – a gathering together of all who believe the report.

The resurrection did not simply occur as a shocking surprise either. There were signs, though they noticed them afterward. Jesus promised it several times, that the Son of man would go to Jerusalem, be arrested and crucified, and on the third day rise again. They never knew what to make of it until the day it happened. There were other signs. The angel who told Mary about the Son she was asked to bear. His name would mean God the Savior and He will reign over a kingdom without end. As the Holy Spirit enveloped her, surely the man-child she would give birth to must be the Son of God. The Son of God ruling forever certainly can’t have his ending on a cross, and that’s all.

The star that brought Magi from the East spoke the same story in the language of sages and astronomers. So did the angelic choirs who sang for shepherds the night of the Savior’s birth. Over and again, reminders came, reminders that the Jewish scriptures held that promise of a Messiah who would die and rise again the third day. The Psalms, Isaiah, Daniel, Jonah, the law and the prophets whisper hints at His power over death. Only God has power over death. Jesus raised at least three people from death. Then He was raised Himself from a brutal death. Of this historic fact we have eyewitnesses.

From the day Jesus called Peter and his fishing companions to follow Him and catch men, the message to the world was that the kingdom of heaven was coming. A hopeful message to a beaten and defeated people. His words and miraculous deeds were creating a following for Christ, and speculations of who He was according to prophecy.

But one day, Jesus took with Him only His three most trusted friends: Peter, James and John. They scaled a high mountain, possibly Tabor, nearly 2,000 feet in elevation. Those of you who have made the climb from Lake Helen to Lassen peak have done a bit more than Tabor, and at a higher altitude. But a respectable climb. Still puffing with the effort, the Apostles saw Jesus kneel to pray and commune with His Father, as He often did. But while He prayed, Jesus was transfigured. Light seemed to emanate from Him, through His clothes, His skin, His hair. Something like the vision John would later get while on Patmos, this was evidence of the divine nature, usually shrouded for them when they walked among the population. This shining was not for the crowds. But these three were chosen to witness it. John later wrote that we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jn 1:14 Peter would write that we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.” The Gospel accounts all shared the event. Though the Lord admonished His friends to keep quiet about what they had seen, that silence was only until He had risen from the dead.

The Transfiguration was a turning point in the life and ministry of Jesus. From this moment on, His face was aimed at Jerusalem. People felt the change, and many began to avoid Him afterward, sensing some portent of a grim and unpleasant fate that He was moving toward, heedless of the danger. What made the change? The disciples saw Jesus standing and talking with two other men, who had appeared on the mountaintop. Whether by their clothes or speech, or because Jesus told them Himself, they reported that the men were in fact Moses and Elijah. Moses, the founder of Judaism as a system of feasts, fasts, sacrifices and laws to order the children of Israel in a way to conquer and establish a nation for the next great Prophet to come. That Prophet would be the only other lawgiver, Jesus Himself. Elijah, the epitome of prophets sent by God to declare heaven’s displeasure with King Ahab and the general heresy of Israel. This rustic prophet, who faced 850 pagan priests on a mountain of his own, and won back the hearts of the populace to Jehovah, never died, but was taken up to heaven alive without dying.

These two great men spoke to Jesus, and Peter, James and John were overcome with the weight of the Presence of God. Sleep, or stupor, or fainting drove them into a semi-consciousness. Peter babbled some idea of making tents for pilgrimages that people might make to see these three holy men. God cut him off with a sudden cloud and the words, “This is my beloved Son. Hear Him.”

The force of this true vision or revelation on that mountaintop carried the Apostles through the harrowing days ahead. If they had ever doubted that their friend, mentor, and leader was Messiah, the holy one of God, God somehow in the body of a man – this experience ended all debate. He had been revealed. A man, yet filled with the brightness of lightning, an inner light that was Him, displayed the fact that God had indeed become one of us, not by diminishing His glory, but by taking the human nature to Himself and selectively hiding that glory from the eyes of those who would only misunderstand.

You have seen or felt or heard the Presence of God. Some people are gifted to hear from Him often. All of us have His Presence available to us at every moment. Do we seek Him out? Are we afraid of our God? Maybe we should be. 21st century Christians are often too familiar with the God whom Jesus describes as the one who can kill the body and also send your soul to hell. Fear Him, says His Son. But your encounters with the Living God have brought you to a church this morning, and often on Sundays. He’s made that impression on you that means you must return to Him, take a stance of worship toward Him, offer yourself once again at His altar, receive of His blessed Body and Blood.

This is a serious faith. Peter, James and John came down the trail with a look on their faces the others must have asked them about. For the meantime, their lips were sealed. But they had been given the gift of faith, a faith that nothing can break. You don’t just believe, you know. And that gift others can sense. Your divine purpose is set by God in you. They may stay with you or leave you, but you have that assurance of the truth nothing and no one can shake. Nothing will take it from you. People like to know somebody who really believes that way.

What does your witness tell others about God? Is He very large and scary? Is He intimate and comforting? Does He strengthen your resolve to live a life that gives Him back the glory He deserves? Have you climbed your own mountain and done business with your Lord? What kind of witness are you? If the faith is going to survive another generation, we have to tell it, and tell it again. Christ was born, attended by angels and a star in the East. Not two months old yet and He was proclaimed Messiah in the Temple by Simeon and Anna. He knew His nature as Man and God, even as a child, and grew up obedient and wise. The rest of His story is long and wonderful to tell, but two events were witnessed by several, and they prove the rest to be true. He was revealed on a mountaintop as God the Son, shining in His own light before two men who stood for the Law and the Prophets. And He rose from death on the third day after the Cross. I, for one, will die if need be to carry that truth into this world. There is no other Person on earth whom I will call my God.

O GOD, who on the mount didst reveal to chosen witnesses thine only-begotten Son wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistering; Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may be permitted to behold the King in his beauty, who with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen. +PFH

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