S. Transfiguration.20 “Glory On The Mountain” Matt. 17:1-9

    And this, really, is what it’s all about, what the disciples saw on that mountain: Jesus’ face shining like the sun, clothes gleaming with the bright, white light of Heaven’s High Noon—glory. In the end, Christianity’s all about the Glory Jesus has, conceals, reveals, conceals again under deepest darkness…

    My favorite thing C.S. Lewis ever wrote (and I love pretty much everything he ever wrote, as I do Luther’s writings, such that picking a favorite with either is not easy) but with Lewis, my favorite of all his writing is a little essay that was published only after he died called “The Weight of Glory”. It was a homily Lewis delivered at the university chapel at Oxford in the dark, early years of WW II, when England was getting blitzed, hammered, battered, and it looked very bleak indeed.

    An odd time for a homily on “glory”, one would think? We know now Churchill was right—and that it was “their finest hour”; but precious few then (besides Churchill, Lewis, Waugh and a few other odd characters) recognized it as such. Only years later, looking back on the darkness of those days with the bombs falling and the Nazis rampaging everywhere, would the English and the rest of the world see the glory shining in the darkness of those days, like the brightest light. But Lewis considered the dark background absolutely necessary for glory to be truly seen, at all. This is the secret, the trick of catching it yourself: a trick Lewis demonstrates in that wonderful little essay…

    Lewis begins by asking if it is not the case that the highest Christian virtue is Unselfishness? Most nod. But he insists for the old Christians it was not. It was Love. We have turned a positive into a negative, and we think denying ourselves joy is the point. It is not! The point is to receive the Love, the Joy God made us to know. To become the selves He wants us to be is the point.

    So how would we get there? Lewis notes that Thomas Aquinas (a Roman Catholic theologian that right-minded Anglicans like Lewis and the Oxford faithful loved to hate) said the whole point of Christianity is not to achieve humility but to find glory—praise from God, and to bask in that forever. To be Selfish, in other words, but not self-centered. Turning our modern ideas of virtue on its head. And on this one point Aquinas is right…

    Lewis admits that glory in the adult sense of wanting to get a medal, have a parade, becoming famous, a fixture in the press, is not at all what he’s after. Think, rather, of a small child. What do they seek, but glory, praise, honor? But not the glory, praise, honor the callow adult seeks from the crowd. The little child lives to hear its father (Lewis calls all children “it” seeing them mostly as failed adults) pat it on the head, proclaiming: “Well done. Good child. Get on, then…” It will live off that praise from their parent for months. A glow, an inner light will shine from its face…

    And this is good, right, and salutary, Lewis claims. Against all English custom and precedent and manners this is what it’s all about. Glory is fame. Glory is good report, straight A’s on the card. Glory is not only something to strive for. It’s the only thing worth striving for.!!! But the Christian sort of glory is different from the worldly in this important respect: the Christian cares not for the glory, the praise, the honors that come from mere human beings, the cheering crowd in the arena, the hushed audience as the Academy Awards are announced. No. The glory, the praise, the honor the Christian seeks is to be famous, loved, and lauded by just One Person: the Triune God who made us, redeemed us with His blood, and renews us by His Free Spirit.

    Christians seek nothing but the glory of God. Lewis points out the whole Scriptures direct us to this. Jesus promises at the Last Day we will hear Him say: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And that pat on the head the small child yearns for from its father is what we get at the Last Day from Jesus, our Lord and God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit together beaming glory upon us for Christ’s sake. When Jesus says “become like little children” this is the essential child-like trait He has in mind: the small child’s simple, single-minded passion to be pleasing to its Father.

    A man who loves a woman can look forward to marriage as the consummation, the ultimate reward of love. But a schoolboy learning Greek can’t look forward to enjoying Sophocles because it is outside anything he can picture. He has to go on like a mercenary looking for little prizes or avoiding punishment.

    So this is the difficulty with Christianity. It promises something—Glory!—we can’t picture because we have never experienced anything like it.

    It is, as Lewis says in one of his most often quoted phrases “…the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

    So what would get us chasing something we can’t really appreciate? Only a desire God Himself planted in us for Himself at Creation. And the appearance of God Himself in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is what the Transfiguration is really all about: Jesus shows us what is in store for us by shining like the Sun Himself, for a brief moment. It is terrifying, delightful. “Make it stop,” the Apostles shout! “For God’s sake, go on!” Comical, really…

    Jesus brought them up on that mountain six days after He’d told them the only Way to get where He and we need to go is the suffering and dying of His cross (and His Resurrection on the third day :-). Peter denies this as vigorously as he’d just confessed Jesus to be Lord and God. He can’t see how dying, being hated, beaten, and crucified on a cross is going to lead to anything glorious or good. He’s out.

    A theology of glory has a very bad reputation, for Lutherans. But Luther was not against glory. He was against the wrong way of getting it. Our goodness, our works are not the way. The bright and happy moments of life are not the glory we truly seek. It is in the darkest hour, the bombs raining down, the mud of the trenches, the bullets whizzing over our heads, the battle all but lost, when the Lord of Life cries out from the cross in the darkness at 3 on a Friday afternoon: “My God, My God; why have You forsaken Me!???!” that the Glory comes. This is the way…

    Which is to say, (as Lewis did) that we have a tough, long journey to make before the glory finally finds us. Many dark days lie ahead, many twists and turns along the Way. Much sadness and loss before the final valedictory…

       Jesus, literally! lights the Way. When the Father thunders: “Listen to Jesus!!!”, they are terrified by the Glory, flat on their faces in the mud. Can’t stand the sight. But when Jesus touches them, gently, on the left elbow, the small of their back, saying “Rise, have no fear”—when they see Jesus only—when the humble, suffering Servant fills their vision, then comes peace

    Lewis concludes his talk: “But tomorrow’s another Monday morning + the cross comes before the crown.” And so it is for each of us. The weight of glory is what we’re made for, long for. But IT shines only from the top of Calvary’s holy mountain. In the darkness of Jesus’ dying. By Word and Sacrament, now, our hearts and minds are set on that—our finest, darkest hour, in which, by Faith alone, there is Peace surpassing understanding, guarding heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.