Luke 9: 28-36
Church of the Good Shepherd, Pawtucket
Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration. One of the feasts on the Church calendar deemed important enough that if it falls on a Sunday it replaces the usual readings. So we take a detour out of our trip through the Gospel of Matthew and Jesus’s teaching over to the middle of Luke.
In this morning’s Gospel we join with Peter, James and John as they accompany Jesus up a mountain for a time of prayer. And while there they have a profound Kingdom of God moment. While praying Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah, in a moment removed from normal time and space, as Moses and Elijah had each died centuries before. All three are shining with divine glory. A cloud, a traditional sign of God’s appearing, encompasses them and God speaks, Peter, James, and John have been ushered into the transcendent realm of God, dwelling for a few moments more in heaven than on earth.
They see Jesus in his full divinity, shining like the sun, and God, in an echo of the words uttered at his Baptism, describing him as his Son, with more authority than Moses or Elijah, greater than the Law and the Prophets.
They had had intimations of his divinity before—as he healed the sick, cast out demons, and fed thousands—and if you read back just before today’s passage in Luke you realize that Peter has just said that Jesus is the Messiah. But on the mountain they don’t get just a hint, or a growing suspicion, or a partial understanding, of Jesus as holy. They see him in his full glory, and hear him discussing the events which will usher in his glory permanently: his crucifixion. And when that crucifixion happens, the veil in the Temple is torn—the veil that separated fallen humanity from God is torn in two. The human and the divine are once again able to be in close relationship.
When the disciples go with Jesus up the mountain, they see the man they had been traveling with for months—the one they’d probably slept under the stars with and traded corny jokes with, the one they’d seen be hot and sweaty and hungry and tired, as well as tender and compassionate—they saw this man they knew to be fully human—they see him alight with the whole glory of God, fully divine.
This complete mixing, one man totally human and yet fully divine, the prayerful miracle worker who goes willingly to his death as an innocent man, this man is God’s Chosen. In this moment Peter, James and John get a true glimpse of the kingdom.
Linda McMillan, an Episcopal lay woman who writes essays about the weekly scripture on the blog Episcopal Café, writes about the Transfiguration:
“Holiness is out there, sort of free-range and unsupervised. It might show up anywhere. On someone’s face, in nature … or the exhilaration of a deep and pure breath. This week most of us will seek God in a holy place. But the wise among us will be on the lookout, because wild and untamed holiness is out there beyond the walls and beyond the symbols. Where, exactly? I don’t know, but I’m on the look out!”
This summer here at Good Shepherd we’ve all been on the lookout for kingdom stories, kingdom moments, when love and compassion break through into the ordinary. Not ones which come with clouds and shining glory, but more everyday moments in which God’s more subtle presence is revealed to those who have eyes to see. I’ve promised I’d give you regular opportunities to share the kingdom moments you’ve seen
What are some of the kingdom moments you have seen recently?
(Go out into congregation and have them share any recent recent kingdom moments)
I have two to share myself.
A friend of mine is always careful to engage w/ the people around him, counter helpers and the like—addressing them by name and making it clear he sees them as real people. Sometimes it takes them (and me) aback, as it is so not a part of our American culture to engage w/ strangers in that way, but sometimes it is clearly a blessing to them, to realize that they are seen as individuals, not automatons.
Yesterday I saw Dunkirk. A marvelous, if hard to watch, movie. Tells the story of ordinary Britons who sacrificed, to save others. One of the plotlines was about a British civilian gentlemen who answered the Navy’s call to take his small sailing yacht to Dunkirk to rescue soldiers—accompanied by his teenage son and his friend as crew. They pick up a shipwrecked sailor from a torpedoed ship in the middle of the Channel and the sailor insists they must turn back to England—that to go on to Dunkirk, where he had just been, is certain death. But they continue onwards, compelled by duty and compassion to risk their lives to save the trapped soldiers. I saw such nobility, and even a glimpse of holiness, in their willingness to sacrifice themselves as civilian volunteers for people they did not know.
The human shining forth with a bit of the divine.
What do we look like after we’ve seen God? How does our appearance change?
I see it every Sunday at the altar rail, when I distribute communion, placing the bread in your palms with the words, “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven.”
When I am on the receiving side of those words, with my palms outstretched, I’ve always heard “the body of Christ” as referring to the wafer in my hands, which I’m about to ingest. And so it is.
But when I stand on the inside of the rail now as a priest, and am the one placing it into your hands, I experience it totally differently. Each time I say, “The Body of Christ”, I am looking at one of you, in the face. You, individually. You are one part of the body of Christ, and I am handing you the bread of heaven. That is my prayer as I distribute communion, that I truly see each one of you as a part the Body of Christ, and that you see yourself that way, more and more each Sunday.
Brother Geoffrey Tristam SSJE has a wonderful prayer he offers for Transfiguration: “So today, as on the day of your baptism, allow God to re-clothe you, to transform you, to transfigure you, that like Christ, you too may shine forth “in raiments dazzling white.” Amen.