Transfiguration to Disfiguration—and Back Again
Today, Ash Wednesday, marks a time when those who follow a liturgical calendar of the Church year change seasons. From the time of Christmas (Jesus, the Word becoming flesh) through Epiphany (Jesus shown as the Christ to Jews and Gentiles), we move into the time of Lent (Jesus setting forth to die). From a time of feasting and celebrating, we transition to one of penitence and fasting, of looking backward at our lives and inward toward ourselves and seeing nothing truly good that we are or have done.
Epiphany ends with the Transfiguration of Our Lord, which celebrates that day when Jesus stood on the mountaintop conversing with Moses and Elijah about His upcoming departure (exodus; see Luke 9:31) from this life. Lent concludes with our Savior’s disfiguration at the hands of those who tortured and crucified Him, as the Church gathers in solemn remembrance of His suffering and death on Good Friday.
Both of these events are part of God’s plan for saving sinful mankind from the evil with which we are born and our accumulated wicked thoughts, words, and deeds. Both the glory and the gore testify to God’s love for sinners as He came down in human flesh to bear our sins and win our forgiveness.
Jesus, Moses, and Elijah all knew grief and pain as the Devil and sinful people attempted to thwart them. Yet each overcame and triumphed in the tasks God assigned. Jesus supplanted Moses as the great Rescuer. Moses led an exodus of Hebrews from bondage in Egypt while Jesus headed the exodus of all believers from eternal slavery to sin, death, and Satan. Elijah gloriously and bodily ascended to the Father without suffering earthly death. Jesus even more gloriously rose from the dead before His own ascension to God’s right hand.
As we begin the season of Lent, we trust that Jesus already cemented our victory. We may still suffer, whether because of others’ actions, the consequences of our own sins, the weakening of our bodies or minds due to age, illness, or accident, or because of Satan’s direct assault. However, just as Moses and Israel crossed the Red Sea, Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal and showed the Lord’s might, and Jesus conquered death by dying and rising, so we will one day attain everlasting life.
Life’s events may disfigure our bodies or crush our minds but Christ’s Holy Spirit transfigures our spirits, creating and sustaining faith through Jesus’ forgiveness applied in Baptism, Absolution, and Holy Communion. Transformed by the Gospel, you need not fear the Devil’s attempts to malform you, for “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)
May God keep the image of Christ crucified before your eyes so that you may always trust that “he was pierced for our transgressions ... and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)”
Send email to Ask the Pastor.
Walter Snyder is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author of the book What Do Lutherans Believe, and writer of numerous published devotions, prayers, and sermons.
Article first appeared in The Concordian of 13 February AD 2013.