The Feast of the Transfiguration (tr)
Sunday, August 7, 2011
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
Whenever my son, William, hears a new story, the first thing he wants to know is if it is real. He seems especially to like true stories. They capture his imagination in a profound way. Now, on the one hand, whenever he asks this question I get the sinking feeling that he will not want to hear the story (or listen to the song, or see the movie or tv show) again if I say it is made-up, and I worry that he will not develop an appreciation of imaginative story-telling. In my saner moments, however, I realise that this is quite a silly thing to worry about. His favourite bedtime story for me to read is from Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy World about Couscous the Algerian dog detective who, through his masterful use of disguise and with the help of his cat and mouse assistants, is able to penetrate the robber’s den of the notorious Pepe Le Gangstair by dressing-up like a dancing girl and capture Pepe and his band of dirty rats (actual rats).
Nevertheless, true stories are deeply powerful for William. He adores the true story of Riptide the Cape Cod golden retriever who loved to run on the beach and who one day rescued a young swimmer swept out to sea by the outgoing tide and who became the beloved mascot of the beach patrol. He especially loves stories from the Bible and understands them to be the true accounts of things that happened long ago and that teach us how much God loves us and how Jesus wants us to work hard and love each other. It is not that William does not want to waste his time with made-up stories. Rather when he knows a story is really an account of something that happened to real people (or animals) in a real place at a real moment in time, he connects with it and can internalise its meaning in a special way.
The author of Second Peter seems to share William’s feelings about the powers of story telling:
And I will see to it that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
Writing in the authoritative voice of the apostle Peter, the author reminds his readers that the great deeds of the apostles are things that need to be shared, retold, written down. They need to be recorded so that people will be able to hold in their memory these great events in which the works of God in history are revealed. This attitude is not very different from that of the Fourth Evangelist who tells us, after recounting the story of so-called doubting Thomas, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”
Telling stories, true stories about God and his great deeds and sharing memories across time, allowing great deeds to be recalled to memory and thereby become present realities, is the great project of Judaism and Christianity. This is the way in which we use story telling, the way in which we use history, to enable the growth and nurture of faith—which is nothing less than our relationship with God. The author of Second Peter tells us that the stories of Jesus’ life and work are not “cleverly devised myths,” stories written for our edification and pleasure, allegories in the form of life-like situations for us to emulate. Rather the stories of God’s relationship and journey with Israel, of Jesus incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection, of the apostles’ spreading of the word of God to the corners of the known world, these stories are accounts that show in no uncertain terms both the majesty of God and the extent of God's love for his creation. These stories have power because they are true and in this way they really make a difference in the course of our lives, in the corse of world history.
The particular episode to which “Peter” referred in his letter was the Transfiguration, the event we recall and celebrate today. In this story, told by each of the Synoptic witnesses (Mark, Matthew, and Luke), Jesus takes three of his disciples—Peter, James, and John—up a mountain. There Jesus was transfigured before them—“his countenance was altered and his raiment became dazzling white”—and there appeared also with Jesus, Moses and Elijah. The three witnesses saw something amazing, Jesus transformed, in his full majesty, part of, yet still greater than, the tradition of the Hebrew prophets. In many ways, and I have spoken with you of this before, this moment is a glimpse of the risen Christ, a glimpse of resurrection life, a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. It is a foretaste of the majesty and glory that is to come, a peak through a window that each of us, from time to time, may see if we train ourselves to look for it.
For the three who witnessed this event, who fully understood it after the Resurrection, there must have been a desire to share the story, to testify to its truth and to the truth of the majesty of God. “Peter” wants to reassure his readers that the events about which he spoke were real. He then wants to let them know that those real moments to which he bore witness would not be forgotten, that they would live in the collective memory of all of those who love Jesus and be told so that more people might know that majesty and that love.
We respond to true stories. For many of us, like William and countless people before him, true stories grip us and draw us in, allowing a connexion between the past and the present to be formed. We assimilate the meaning of that true story and it changes us so that the way in which we live our lives is altered. This is the power of learning history. This is the power of learning sacred history. As we celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration today, may each of us enter into the story and be swept along with Peter and James and John into a contemplation of the majesty of God in Christ, of Christ in his full glory, shining white as raiment before us, and may we be empowered by that vision and strengthened in our work of love in the world. Amen.
Andrew Charles Blume+
New York City
The Feast of the Transfiguration (tr), 7 August 2011
© 2011 Andrew Charles Blume