The Feast of the Transfiguration
Sunday, August 6, 2010
A Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume
O God, who on the holy mount didst reveal to chosen witnesses thy well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in his beauty; who with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen.
2 Peter 1:13-21
For some time now, I have been convinced that the mystery of the Transfiguration can not be separated from that of the Resurrection. The first record of this event is found in the Gospel of Mark. Mark, as you will remember, has no authentic resurrection narrative and the original version of the text ends with Jesus’ death on the cross and the Centurion proclaiming, “surely this man was the son of God,” and a visit to the empty tomb. For Mark’s community, closest of all the Gospel’s to Jesus life and death, they did not need elaborate resurrection narratives, for they had personal experience of the risen Christ. They did not need proof in story form of Jesus defeat of death, for they had lived it.
What the Markan community also remembered was that Jesus had told his disbelieving disciples no fewer than three times that he would have to suffer many things, be killed, and on the third day rise again. What they remembered was that after one such proclamation, Jesus had gone up to the mountain to pray with his inner circle of disciples—Peter, James, and John—and was transformed before their eyes. “The appearance of his countenance,” to use Luke’s words that we heard this evening, “was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white.” The Markan community remembered that Jesus gave his closest friends a glimpse of the Resurrection, a view of what was to come, an image of Jesus in all his glory. Jesus showed clearly and in the flesh—as decisively as he did in any of the resurrection stories of the other Gospels, including the tale of our old friend Thomas—his beautiful new body, his defeat of death.
Those first hearers of Mark’s story would have known the risen Christ, or at least many of them would have known those who were there with Jesus, and they would have recognised in the Transfiguration the same triumph, the same victory of love over death that they knew in the Resurrection itself. They would have known what Peter and James and John did not, what they could not accept. They would have known the triumph of the one who had to suffer at the hands of men. They would have known that the one who suffered was not the conventional hero. Jesus, who suffered like so many other people in this world, would be the one to defeat death.
What Peter and James and John knew—as told in all the Gospel accounts—was that they were witnessed to something extraordinary. There Jesus was, transfigured before them, white as raiment, talking with Elijah and Moses. They knew that this was something that was worth holding onto. They wanted this experience to last, so Peter suggested building those booths. As soon as he made the offer, however, “a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.”
This glimpse of the Resurrection was just to be that. It was an occasion to see God’s power at work and for God himself to declare his relationship to Jesus. Jesus is his son, his chosen and his word was to be heeded, heeded as the very word of God. The Chosen one—I will save the Harry Potter references for Sunday’s sermon—means in the world of Ancient Israel the one who suffers for God. God, at the moment of this great vision of triumph and glory reminds all that suffering—suffering for and with his people—is at the core of Jesus’ very identity. God reminds us that the Resurrection is connected to Jesus’ suffering and that before it is to be accomplished, there is more work to do.
The Transfiguration is but a brief vision of triumph and glory and Jesus and his friends must go back down the mountain and resume their journey towards the Cross and beyond. Our own experience is not very different. The Kingdom of God is something to which we are given some access, but it is not yet fully here and when in our lives we are given a peek at love in its fulness, of God triumphant, we learn from the Transfiguration and from life itself that it can not last. Rather, such a vision can sustain us, as it did the apostles on that day, to continue our work, continue on our journey, endure those things we are called to endure in the sure and certain hope that love is real, that resurrection is real.
The Transfiguration is a sign to those who know the Resurrection. The Transfiguration reminds us that in our lives we, too, are given glimpses, however fleeting of God’s love in its fulness. It reminds us that we need both to recognise them when they happen as visions of Resurrection life and to remember that we can not expect to hang onto them longer than we are supposed to. I pray this night, therefore, that we be strengthened as we share in this feast, that we look to the Eucharist we celebrate tonight as another glimpse of the Resurrection, and that we will go forth into the world, back down the mountain, well nourished as we continue on our life’s journey until that time when God shall make all in all. And so, to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
Andrew Charles Blume+
New York City
The Feast of the Transfiguration, 6 August 2010
©2010 Andrew Charles Blume