Some conversations beg to be overheard. You know what I am talking about. You are at a party in a friend’s home—maybe an NCAA Final Four party. You are standing by the table in the kitchen, innocently dipping your chip into the salsa bowl, and you hear someone whisper to another, “Did you hear she’s leaving him?” Your ears perk up. Or you are standing in line at the bank, minding your own business, and the man in front of you insists to the teller there must be a mistake. There is no way his account could have been accessed by someone else. You lean forward. You are not normally an eaves-dropper, and you do not make a habit of sticking your nose in other people’s business, but some conversations beg to be overheard.
Transfiguration is like this. There was a lot happening on that mountain—probably too much for a single sermon. Rather than trying to fully address Jesus’ transfigured appearance, and the engulfing cloud and its voice, and Peter’s camping plans, and every other detail, I would suggest you narrow the focus to one part of the text. A good candidate would be the conversation which took place between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. It is a conversation which begs to be overheard.
We do not know much about the specifics of how the conversation went. Luke does not give us a verbatim, but he says more about it than Matthew or Mark, which makes it noticeable. He tells us how Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus concerning “His departure.” The Greek brings more to mind. They talked about His “exodus” (τὴν ἔξοδον αὐτοῦ).
Moses knew a little something about τὴν ἔξοδον. Elijah also knew something about departures (see 2 Kings 2). Perhaps these exits came up in their conversation. We do not know, of course. But one exodus did come up, and it was Jesus’.
This was not the first time Jesus talked about His exodus in Jerusalem. Earlier in the same chapter Jesus spoke of His death and resurrection (9:21-22). He also spoke about the death of all who would follow Him (9:23-25). The connection between these departures and the Old Testament Exodus are obvious and worth exploring. As God’s central act of deliverance before Jesus, the Exodus from Egypt meant liberation from bondage and hope for a future. Jesus’ exodus in Jerusalem accomplished this and more for all who depart in Him. Here is where the liturgical context comes into the picture. Three days after Transfiguration we will be reflecting on our own death – our own “exodus” – on Ash Wednesday.
Which brings us back to the conversation in the verses for Transfiguration Sunday. A sermon on this text might creatively imagine for the hearers how the conversation may have gone. You will want to signal to the congregation how you are not adding to the Bible. This can be done by openly saying we do not have the details, but we can imagine the types of things they may have discussed. Then you could explore some potential topics, using one or more of the following to proclaim both the commands and promises of God.
- Perhaps Jesus was telling Moses and Elijah about the difficulties He was preparing to endure in His passion. Maybe they asked Jesus how He was going to do it.
- Perhaps Jesus was telling them about how the disciples—including the three with Him—would all run away. About how they would promise to stay with Him, but then how their fears would rise up and about how He would suffer alone.
- Perhaps Jesus was telling them about why He was willing to endure the coming sufferings:
- Maybe He spoke of His love for creation, His love for all people, His great desire to restore all things.
- Maybe He let Moses and Elijah in on the secret—that by dying and rising He would conquer death for all time (Connections to the epistle readings from the last two weeks would be natural here).
- Maybe Jesus was helping the two of them see this had been His plan from the beginning and how they (Moses and Elijah) were part of a much larger story.
- Perhaps Jesus was speaking with Moses and Elijah about how His departure—His death and resurrection—would affect our departure.
Here is where you could bring the sermon directly to the hearers. Most of us do not think about our departure—our exodus—very often. We are too busy living to spend much time thinking about dying. But death has a way of forcing its way into the conversation. It should not be hard to think of examples of death and its unwelcome intrusion into the life of your congregation.
Which makes this Sunday a good opportunity to help prepare your hearers to not only enter the season of Lent, but also to die well. As they look forward to Jesus’ return, and as they come face to face with their own impending exodus, you might use the conversation in our text to proclaim the promises of Jesus’ death and resurrection for our eternal deliverance.
Concordia Theology: Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO, to assist you in preaching Luke 9:28-36.
Lectionary Podcast: Dr. Peter Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN, walks us through Luke 9:28-36.
Text Week: A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 9:28-36.