The Glory Days
Text: Matt. 17:1-9
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The glory days. Whether we’re talking about team, an era of music, or a community, everyone can remember the glory days. Those were the times when everything was great. Everything was a win, numbers were up, money was rolling in, everyone was happy and comfortable. Anything wrong was so overshadowed by the good that it didn’t even register. Of course, it’s often lamented that people don’t know they’re in the glory days until they’ve passed.
But Peter knew. In our Gospel reading for today, the Transfiguration of our Lord, Peter knew that he was in the glory days—a literal day of stunning glory. He knew that he, James, and John were right at the pinnacle of glory. It wasn’t going to get better than this. He, and every Israelite, had been waiting for their own glory days, something that would be like those days recorded in our Old Testament reading, when Moses and the elders of Israel went up Mount Sinai and saw God, when they ate and drank in His glorious presence. And now, here on the mountain with Jesus, Peter was seeing something even greater. For it wasn’t just Jesus on the mountain; it was Moses and Elijah, the two greatest prophets from Israel’s previous glory days, standing and talking with his teacher, Jesus. And Jesus Himself was quite literally outshining those two representatives of Israel’s former glory. His face shone like the sun and His clothes appeared to be made out bright white light. Everything his eyes told him screamed to Peter that this was it, this was the peak, this is what he and everyone had been waiting for—the glory days returned to God’s people, even better than before.
So Peter wanted to keep it, to hold on to it. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you will it, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Now when we read “tents” here, we have to realize that Peter was talking about tabernacles, not just camping tents. Peter wanted to build three tabernacles, to rival the days of the tabernacle when Moses and the Israelites were wandering, when King David ruled over Israel at the beginning of its golden age. After all, three is better than one. If they had three tabernacles, two with a prophet each and one with the shining Son of God, wouldn’t that be a better, more glorious age? Just think of how great it would be to have those three tabernacles—everyone could come and see Jesus in all His splendor. They could see Moses and Elijah and know that this Jesus really was the Messiah, that Peter and the disciples had been right. Crowds of people could be gathered and trust their own eyes. Jesus would never be challenged or looked down upon again. All doubts would evaporate in the light of that glory.
But God’s way is not our way. This show of splendor, these esteemed representatives of the Law, Moses and Elijah, the light, the dazzling display—none of it is the way in which God reveals His true glory. The Israelites of Moses’ day saw the fire on Mount Sinai, they saw God and ate and drank in His presence, and yet they fell away, time and again. Those who saw the miracles of Elijah were still filled with doubt every time their king and queen roared and threatened and demanded they worship the false god Baal. Glory, feast for the eyes that it is, will not show God as He wants to be known. What we expect God to be—big, powerful, glorious—is not what He wants to be for us. The glory admired by humans will not reveal the depths of God’s heart and will.
So when Peter suggested building tabernacles, God the Father told them not to trust their eyes, not their sense of what would be good. He instead told them to trust their ears. “Peter was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.’” Listen. Listen to what Jesus, the Son of God says. Close your eyes and open your ears.
Listen. Because the time is coming when you cannot trust your eyes to tell you what’s glorious or not. Jesus and His disciples are on their way to Jerusalem, where He will be betrayed, arrested, mocked, beaten, and hung on a cross like a criminal. And if Peter and the disciples trust their eyes, they won’t see glory. They won’t see the beloved Son of God. So they must listen.
And we ourselves are headed into the season of Lent, walking with Jesus up that road to Calvary and the cross. Glory will be hidden from our eyes. Crosses and images of Jesus will be veiled as He’s taken away from our sight. The Gloria in Excelsis that we sing every Sunday—the song whose name means “Glory in the highest”—will be omitted the next six Sundays; glory hidden. Alleluias, those joyful shouts meaning “Praise the Lord”, won’t be sung here. Things won’t look so glorious.
And that’s the point. The reason the Church has the season of Lent is so that we can prepare ourselves for those less-than-glorious seasons in our own lives. Because there will be times that the glory won’t be very visible. A bad diagnosis, financial troubles, a fall from grace, breaks on family fault lines—these are all troubled, un-glorious times that we know well. Those days when we get stuck in the same old sins that we swore we wouldn’t do again. Those years when we wonder if it’s always going to be this way. Those times when it seems like everything is falling apart, that it doesn’t look like it used to—in our nation, our state, our city, our church, our neighborhood—and we long for the glory days.
But don’t trust your eyes. Don’t trust your sense of what’s glorious. Trust your ears when they hear Jesus’ voice. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” And what’s the very first thing Jesus says after our Father tells us to listen? The disciples are terrified at the voice and the cloud of glory, as all mortals should be in the presence of perfect blazing holiness. But after the command to listen, the first word Jesus says is “Rise.” Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” That word, “rise,” is the same word used to describe someone who rising from the dead. “Rise, be resurrected, and have no fear.”
Don’t be afraid when it gets not-so-glorious. Don’t wring your hands when it doesn’t look like the so-called glory days. I can promise you that they weren’t as glorious as anyone remembers—there were still problems, open or hidden, and everyone still had their struggles. Don’t be afraid when the world does what the world is going to do and looks down on Christ and His Church. Peter eventually came to understand this, that it wasn’t about seeing how Jesus looked to the world, but it was about hearing what Jesus said. Years after the Transfiguration, years after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, Peter would write in his letter, which was partly read to us today: “For when [Jesus] received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.” But now Peter gets to the heart of it all: “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” Peter says that the Word of God is more sure than seeing the Transfiguration. And Peter would know, being witness to it all.
Don’t fear when you can’t see the glory. Don’t fear when you can. Instead, hear Jesus. Hear Him tell you to rise. For you will rise. You’ll rise after this Lenten season of subdued glory. You’ll rise at Easter, when you share Jesus’ resurrection in the bright joy of that day. And you’ll rise in the resurrection at the end, when you’re brought into the new heavens and new earth. It’s then that you’ll see real glory—the glory of salvation, which no glory now can even come close to matching. In the name of Jesus, the Son of God. Amen.