Sunday August 6, 2017
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: The Reverend Canon Anne Mallonee
A Doubly Important Feast
Have you ever watched children, as dusk sets on a warm summer day, delight as the fireflies emerge? They ask for a jar, with holes punched in the lid, to capture the magic.
Perhaps you have done this yourself.
You remember the excitement, the awe, the fleeting joy of it.
Might this have been the impetus behind Peter’s impulse when suddenly Jesus’ appearance changed dramatically before him: practically on fire with his face shining and his garments dazzling white – when he was joined by none other than Moses and Elias?
Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elias.
But that wouldn’t have worked, any more than capturing fireflies in a jar.
Peter’s naïve enthusiasm was checked immediately, as a voice emerged from the clouds: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
The only way to respond to such an intense encounter was to fall on his face, and John and James did the same.
Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration: A feast so important that we observe it not once but twice every liturgical year.
The Transfiguration always comes at the end of the season that is dedicated entirely to the manifestation of Jesus’ divinity – the season of Epiphany – which took place back in February this year.
Jesus’s identity was declared, and then we plunged right into Ash Wednesday and Lent, and the journey to the Cross.
We come again to the Feast of the Transfiguration every August 6, which is a Sunday this year.
Why is the Transfiguration so important, as for us to observe it semi-annually?
For at least two reasons:
First: Because the revelation on the mountain hammers home the identity of Jesus. This is my Son, my Chosen!”
And second: because this event puts into context the magnitude of his love: How Jesus’ mission was God’s ultimate strategy for salvation.
This is especially clear in Saint Luke’s version; we are allowed to eaves drop on the conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elias. They speak of his departure, his exodus (echoing the Exodus led by Moses), with the final destination the cross.
Glory and passion. Identity and purpose.
The identity of Jesus as God’s son, and his role in God’s strategy to save the world, give meaning to the entire liturgical year.
It is pure Love that was revealed on that mountain.
As Saint John would later explain:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (St. John 3:16)
Barely a week before, Peter had declared his understanding of Jesus as the Messiah.
That confession was significant. But he still had a ways to go in his understanding, and in his acceptance, of the fate of Christ.
Jesus had described to his disciples what was ahead for him, but it was this mystical event of the Transfiguration that brought real understanding.
Is it no wonder that Peter, John, and James hit the dirt when they got a glimpse of the holy destiny of Jesus – and therefore of the whole world?
The change that happened on that mountain was not a change in Jesus, but rather in those who witnessed his divinity more fully.
They were, in that raw encounter with God, taken beyond all familiar dimensions of reality.
Their exposure to this divine dimension changed them forever.
My mother was an artist who taught us at a very young age to see and create dimension on the page.
First, she drew a one-dimensional line between two points, depicting length.
Then she drew shapes, with both length and width – a square, or a circle, or a triangle: each a two-dimensional object.
Then, adding the use of shading and perspective, even while still using a two-dimensional piece of paper, she:
turned that square into a cube; and
changed that circle into a sphere; and
the triangle became a cone.
In the last 50 years, scientists and have put forth theories of even more dimensions.
In their raw encounter with the Divine, Peter, John and James experienced a dimension to reality beyond anything they had known before.
Before these disciples accompanied Jesus up that mountain that day, they had come to know the three-dimensional man Jesus.
In that Transfiguration moment, a glimpse at his divinity blew open their imaginations.
The Transfiguration is not about something different happening to Jesus. It was, rather, Peter, John and James who were changed when they saw Jesus in his full divinity for the first time. When they encountered the magnitude of his love.
They were transformed indelibly by what they witnessed.
Now it must have been difficult to do this, but they kept mum, just as Jesus had demanded, until after his resurrection. Once they were free to tell the story, I bet nothing could stop them.
Indeed, we hear Peter’s testimony in the Epistle today:
For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
(2 Peter 1:16)
With the remove of not just centuries, but millennium, the Transfiguration could just be an interesting story -- were it not possible for us also to get a glimpse of that greater dimension, to experience the raw encounter that explodes day to day reality as we know it.
But thanks be to God that we are able to get a glimpse.
The birth of a child can have that effect – the miracle of new life, the wonder of seeing for the first time what love has created.
For others, to look up at the canopy of stars, or across the expanse of the ocean, awakes one to a reality beyond the beyond.
Beauty in the arts-- can transport us to new dimensions.
Literature can trigger our imagination for what is beyond what we experience with our senses – C.S. Lewis has led generations through the back of an old wardrobe to access the Land of Narnia.
Architecture can do it. The soaring pull of a sacred space, such as this one, can draw us out of ourselves.
To participate in the sacraments increases our capacity for these holy experiences.
And music. Music so often reveals multi-dimensional glory. How many tens of thousands of people have received a glimpse of God’s love through the music here at St. Thomas? There’s no way to know, but it has to be an enormous number. Possibly millions.
This week members of the Sant Thomas Girls’ Course took their place in this parish’s music vocation. It was my pleasure to participate in evensong with them on Tuesday and Thursday, to experience their enthusiasm and diligence and energy.
The music they offer this morning has the potential to create a moment of Transfiguration, a glimpse of love and glory, as they will sing in a few minutes:
Where charity and love are, there is God…Let us fear and love the living God.
The girls will not be staying here – they will go home to their own choirs and their own worlds – but the experience of Saint Thomas and the music they have made will be with them for the rest of their lives.
In conclusion, I see the wisdom in inserting the Feast of the Transfiguration into the midst of the summer.
It comes at a time when we might actually have the leisure to reflect seriously on our lives.
A time when the magic of fireflies can remind us of our younger selves, and can awaken our curiosity and sense of wonder.
With this reminder of Jesus’ identity and passion, we have the opportunity to hit the spiritual “reset button” and restore love to the center of our lives. Amen.