Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, August 6, 2023

YEAR A 2023 transfiguration

Feast of the Transfiguration, 2023
Exodus 34:29-35
2 Peter 1:13-21
Luke 9:28-36
Psalm 99

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about why we keep coming back to church.  We all have our own individual reasons, of course.  I mean, for some of us, it’s our actual career and vocation.  But I know I would keep coming anyway, just as you keep coming back.  And I think what brings us back has something to do with a shared experience.  Like, there are moments of . . . you see it too!  You feel it too!  You sense it too!  That is what binds us together in worship.  The shared experience of something happening.  Something out of the ordinary.  As CS Lewis wrote regarding friendship, “The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one’.”

Sometimes, a worship experience is overwhelming.  Sometimes it’s just a glimpse.  But even a glimpse says, “You saw it too!”  The curtain was pulled back.  There was a thin place, a liminal space.  As someone said last month after a particularly powerful experience, St. Timothy’s is a vortex.  Something happens here.

There’s an old saying that, in worship, the priest’s role is to draw back the curtain . . . and then hide in the folds of it.  In fact that’s why we wear these chasubles that match the Altar cloths.  So the priest can disappear.  When the liturgy “works,” it’s because we are doing a thing together.  A thing that has nothing to do with me and you, except for our desire to see that glimpse again.

And speaking of liturgy, today is the Feast of the Transfiguration.  And that makes this the perfect day to begin our month of experiencing the so-called trial-use liturgies, authorized by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church.  As I explained in my last newsletter/e-mail, I have been elected a deputy to next year’s General Convention, where we will be having conversations and votes about trial-use liturgies.  And since trial use implies actually trying to use, that is what we’re doing.

And so, on the Feast of the Transfiguration, we begin transfiguring our liturgy.  Perfect.  At heart, the liturgy remains the same as it has always been.  But the outward appearance will change.  It will look and sound a little different from what we’re used to, but it will be what it has always been.  A transfiguration of our liturgy.  Which leads us to look at the prefix, “trans.”

Trans comes to us from Latin, and means across or beyond.  You can see its use as “across” in words like transaction, transport, and transform.  You can see its use as beyond in words like transcend, transuranium, and transubstantiation.  However, the word “transfigure” is different.  According to most definitions, to transfigure means to change appearance in a way that exalts or glorifies.  The Transfiguration of Jesus changes his appearance in a way that reveals his glory.

Transfiguration is a difficult concept to wrap our minds around.  If Jesus is one thing, how can he become another thing?  Jesus was fully human.  I mean, it’s right there in our Creeds.  If Jesus had a birth certificate, it would have said, “male, human.”  Not “deity, glowing on a mountain.”  And yet, there he is, transfigured on the mountaintop.  By outward appearances, it seems a pretty good indicator that people can change.

But, of course, we intuitively know this.  When we are born, we are absolutely 100% dependent on the people around us, for everything.  But now, here we all are, having dressed ourselves, fed ourselves, and mostly having driven ourselves over here.  That’s a pretty big change from the moment we were born.  People DO change.  All the time.  All of us.

But, did Jesus change on the mountain?  As we heard, while Jesus was praying, “the appearance of his face changed.”  So did Jesus himself actually change?  Or is it more like the disciples got a glimpse of who Jesus was all along?   As I read it, Jesus did not change.  It’s more like, the curtain was pulled back.  It’s more like the people around him finally caught up to seeing him as he always knew himself to be.  He is not different.  He is revealed.

So why is it so hard for us to understand this Transfiguration?  Why do we naturally assume that Jesus had to become something else in order for this story to make sense??  Because it doesn’t happen to all of us, that’s why.  It happened to Jesus.  Not to us.  We don’t have the same experience as Jesus . . . because we are not Jesus.  But do we insist on seeing the birth certificate of Jesus, in order to prove that he was born male and human, and not glowing on a mountaintop?  No we do not.  He was transfigured in appearance, but he is the exact same Jesus he has always been.

If we can accept that things can happen with Jesus’ appearance that we do not understand, maybe we could also learn to accept that changes happen in other people’s appearance that we do not understand.  What happened on that mountain was that Jesus’ true nature was revealed.  What the disciples finally saw in him was who Jesus was all along.  Who he knew himself to be.  In being transfigured, Jesus shows others who he is.  Turns out, it’s not a change.  It’s a revelation to the world.  A pulling back of the curtain

And this is why the suggested hymns for this day and the proper preface are from the feast of Epiphany.  The Transfiguration of Jesus is not a change or a new thing; it is a revelation.  An epiphany.

Transfiguration is revealing what is already there, not creating a new pretend thing.  This is Jesus.  Revealed as he truly is.  And in our blindness we have a hard time accepting it.  Transfiguration is not a threat.  It is not a menace.  It is just revealing of what is already there.  What has been there all along.  Just as God intended.  Transfiguration is pulling back the curtain, to see things and people as God created them to be.  And God said they were good.


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