In 2008 the legendary Metropolitan Opera in New York City was the scene of something so radical in the opera world that it hadn’t happened in fourteen years, something that had actually been banned because it was deemed to be an improper thing to do at an opera house. In 2008 the Metropolitan Opera rocked with delight as the star tenor Juan Diego Florez responded to the audience’s loud and long applause for hitting all nine high C’s in the opera’s final selection by …performing an encore – causing the people in the house to cheer wildly, with the news of this daring encore event making waves all over the opera world.
If you are a person who goes to concerts, you know very well that calling for encores is anything but a radical event in most venues, because it is a very common experience in the concert world today, especially if the performance was so good that you would like to hear the group play just one more song. And most often they do – often with even more than one encore if they still have the stamina and if the crowd still has the desire.
In our lesson for today on the Transfiguration mountain the apostle Peter was basically asking for a spiritual encore after seeing something far beyond radical and amazing, when after realizing that Moses and Elijah were about to leave the scene of that holy event, he said, “Jesus, let’s put up three shelters for you and Moses and for Elijah, so that what we have been seeing and hearing can go on and on. Jesus, can we have an encore?”
There actually was an encore that day on the mountain, but it was different than the one Peter asked for. In fact, we could say there were two encores that day, encores that really had nothing to do with Peter’s request but had everything to do with God’s love. On this festival of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, let’s see how our everyday life and our upcoming Lenten worship can be helped by thinking about Christ’s Transfiguration Encores.
The first encore was really what Peter wanted there to be an encore for. Peter wanted there to be an encore for the conversation that Moses and Elijah were having with Jesus about what St. Luke calls in verse 31 “his departure.” That very conversation actually was in a certain sense an encore. It was an encore about his departure.
This is what I mean. The opening verse tells us that about eight days earlier Jesus had been talking about certain things, and that he went up with Peter, James and John to a mountain to pray about them. What Jesus had been talking to his disciples about eight days earlier was some very powerful stuff. He had told them something they didn’t fully grasp, so much so that Peter told him, “No way, Jesus, this will never happen to you,” and Jesus had to tell Peter, “Peter, you are talking like the devil. What you are saying is what Satan wants to happen.” What Jesus said would happen because his Father wanted it to happen was that he must suffer many things and be rejected and be killed – and then, praise God, three days later be raised to life.
What Jesus had been talking about was the heart of our salvation – and that song in the concert of God’s love was so important and so intense and so great that what his heavenly Father did was provide an encore – an eight days later encore. On that mountain while Jesus was praying about those kinds of things with the same sleepy disciples who also couldn’t stay awake in Gethsemane when he was praying to his heavenly Father the day before all this was actually going to happen, that’s when Jesus’ appearance changed and he was transfigured before them with his face and clothing flashing so dazzlingly that it was like bolts of lightning shining all around them.
This encore included two more performers who joined Jesus on stage, we could say – the old Testament prophets Moses and Elijah – who had lived 1,500 years and 900 years earlier, respectively – talking, as we said, about Christ’s “departure,” a word that also means the outcome. Eight days earlier Jesus had predicted the outcome of his life, and now his Father gave him an encore about his departure by having his Son give just a glimpse of what he was really like and by having him talk to two people from long ago about the very things all the prophets had talked about for centuries – the outcome of the work of the coming Messiah.
Wouldn’t it be great to know what they were talking about when these three were talking about Jesus’ departure? Could Moses have said something like, “Jesus, you will be pierced like a lamb led to the slaughter, but your blood will put an end once and for all to all those sacrifices God told me to tell the people to make in those laws he gave me on Mount Sinai.” Could Elijah have said something like, “Jesus, I once thought I was the only one left in Israel who still believed in the Lord after Queen Jezebel said she wanted to kill me, but that was not true. There still were many others. Jesus, you truly will be alone, forsaken by your Father as you hang on a cross on a day that will be dark in so many ways, but it will be a day that will be celebrated and thanked God for for the rest of time, because the curse that you will bear will remove the curse from everyone else in this world.”
That encore about Jesus’ departure was the encore that Peter asked there be an encore for by asking Jesus if they all could stay on that mountain for a long time. But there was another encore – an encore that would encourage Jesus to keep going in his work – an encore that you and I need to keep in mind every day of the forty days of Lent which lie before us beginning this Wednesday – an encore that in addition to the encore about his departure was an encore for his departure. This encore came when Jesus heard the voice not just of Moses and Elijah, but the voice of his Father who spoke out of the cloud that enveloped them, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen. Listen to him.”
The concept of encores was strong years ago in countries like Germany and Italy, where the word for what we call an encore was “bis.” They would yell out, “Bis.” The word “bis” means “again,” which meant that the crowd wanted the singer to do what they just heard again — the same song – sometimes right in the middle of the opera. One of the reasons encores lost favor in the opera world is that they would obviously interrupt the performance… Jesus did not want there to be any interruption with some thought about building three shelters. There was still more work to do. And by speaking from heaven, his Father provided a different kind of encore for him as he went about that work.
In that short time later when Jesus would feel the slap of the whip and the fist and the mock, he could remember this encore for his departure. I am God’s chosen one, whom my Father loves and with whom he is well-pleased. Later when Jesus would look at those who spit, who betrayed, who ran, he could remember this encore for his departure. I am God’s chosen one, whom my Father loves and with whom he is well-pleased. When Jesus bowed his head and gave up his Spirit, when Jesus’ body was laid in that new tomb, when Jesus came out of that grave and appeared alive to Peter and James and John and all the rest, he could remember that this encore for his departure meant that the outcome of his work was a total success, because I am God’s chosen one, whom my Father loves and with whom he is well-pleased. This encore was obviously a far better encore than Peter could ever have asked for or imagined, because this was an encore that showed that Jesus and his Father were one – and that Jesus and his Father wanted to make us one with them so we could make our home with them – a home we right now enjoy with them in our hearts, because everything the Father said he was well-pleased with about Jesus, he is also well-pleased with about every single person who believes that Jesus is their Savior from sin.
About eight days earlier when our Savior from sin had told his disciples how he would become our Savior from sin, he also had said what needed to become of us if we wanted to keep following Jesus as his disciples. About eight days earlier Jesus had also said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The very reason Jesus did what he did was because we don’t do what we are to do as we are to do it. And our holy God does not want any encore performance from us. But as we go ahead in our lives in these upcoming days and weeks and as we go ahead in our Lenten worship in these upcoming days and weeks, we can deny ourselves by thanking God that Jesus denied himself for us, and we can take up our cross by hanging on to the cross that Jesus took up for us, and we can follow Jesus by walking in the steps Jesus has already walked in for us – steps that will lead us to something far greater than three shelters on a mountain where Jesus revealed a glimpse of his glory. For on that day when we see Jesus face to face there will be no more need for an encore. Or maybe it would be better to say that we will be enjoying the encore – the final Transfiguration encore – the final Transfiguration encore that will never end. That will be radical in every wonderful sense of the word! Amen.