Sermons That Work

At First the Readings…, Last Sunday in Epiphany (A) – 1999

February 14, 1999


At first, the readings of the text for the Transfiguration seem a strange choice for a Sunday in Epiphany. Yet Epiphany means the manifestation or the showing of God. When God is revealed in our lives, it is earth-shattering, paradigm-scattering, transforming.

The verb for the Transfiguration is like our, word metamorphose – to be changed. It is like the caterpillar that is changed into a beautiful monarch butterfly. It is like the Hans Christian Andersen story where the ugly duckling, grown up, is revealed as a beautiful swan.

Transfiguration is an upside down turning, somersault flipping, darkness into Light experience. And the Light of Christ, the Light of the Epiphany star that the wise ones followed, can indeed change and transform our very ordinary lives into the Glory of God.

In our Old Testament reading with Moses upon the mountain of God, this manifestation of God in the Shekinah of God’s Glory is seen as thunder rumbling, smoke erupting, cataclysmic, foundation shaking, all encompassing flaming power. It was a heart stopping, knee trembling, breath grasping experience. To see God is to die.

And indeed, truly, is it not the same for us? For does not to “be in Christ” mean to die? The heart and soul of our own Baptism means to die in Christ, to live in Christ…to be transfigured.

When Peter and James and John were on the mountain with Jesus at the time of the Transfiguration, Christ’s very face shone — shone like the light of the sun, shone beyond a brightness that our human eyes can perceive. And in the end of this revelation, they saw only Jesus. Saw ONLY Jesus, no one but Jesus — alone.

We usually think of the Transfiguration as something that happens to Jesus. Can we dare to think of Christ’s transfiguration as something that happens also to us?

There is a hermit monk, a vowed solitary priest, in the Diocese of Montana. She has named her small monastery, “The Monastery of the Transfiguration.” What an appropriate name to describe a life of prayer. For surely prayer does transfigure us. Can we begin to walk in the grace of Christ’s transfiguring love through our own prayers and a life with the sacraments?

In the Gospel Transfiguration story, in a paradox of images, the disciples were overshadowed by a cloud. It is the same word that is used by the angel to Mary at her Annunciation. She was overshadowed by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the same word used again at Pentecost as the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples in Acts. It is a darkness becoming Light — and through the dark cloud God is revealed, “Epiphanied.”

We all have darkness in our lives. Each person here has gone through moments of deep pain. Wounds. Death. Fear. Sin. Suffering in some form or another. Each one of us here needs urgently, at times desperately, the tender transfiguration of the love of Christ.

Can we dare to experience an overshadowing of God in our own lives, to have a shadow cast upon us, to be enveloped in a haze of brilliancy, to be blinded to all else but the love of God? Can we allow our earthy, broken humanity to see the face of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ? Can we be transfigured into the Body of Christ?

Alchemy was a medieval practice in which there was the hope of transforming the baser elements of the earth into gold. It was a futile effort. What do we need with gold and silver? There is a greater transfiguration here. The words of Paul in Philippians exhort us to count all else as rubbish — as worthless nothingness — in comparison to knowing Christ Jesus. We are called to see only Jesus — to have nothing else in life to lure us.

Jesus stirs us to desire one thing only and that is the love of God. Our lives in God are a transfiguration from birth to eternal life. In baptism we are transfigured from sin to redemption, from death to life, from human to divine in Christ Jesus. And remember our baptism is not a past event but a continuous moment, transfigured constantly in the loving action of Christ in our lives.

Eucharist is one of the most profound moments of transfiguration in our lives and so often we see it not. We believe that the ordinary bread and wine are transfigured by the mystery of God into the Body and Blood of Christ. Do we dare grasp what happens to each of us in the Eucharist?

We bring our gifts to the altar. Yet they are a symbol — it is we ourselves we bring to God in that ordinary bread and wine. And in the epiclesis — the prayer calling down the Holy Spirit, the overshadowing — the celebrant prays for the bread and wine to be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. In the words of the Eucharistic prayer we say, “Lord we pray that in your goodness and mercy your Holy Spirit may descend upon us and upon these gifts, sanctifying them and showing them to be holy gifts…!”

Upon us as well as the bread and wine; what a miracle.

This great and gracious God wants to overshadow us, to transform and transfigure us also into the Body of Christ. Can we, dare we, will we…”see only Jesus?”

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