A Sermon preached by the Reverend Michael Anderson Bullock on 2023.0806.A.Transfiguration Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Peter 1:13-21; Luke 9:28-36
As I mentioned in this past edition of the parish’s newsletter (the “News of the Week” – the “NOW”), today is a special day in the life of Jesus’ followers. Formally, August 6th is the celebration of the “Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ”; and that this festival day takes precedence over our normal observance of Sunday as the Day of the Resurrection speaks to the significance of this occasion. Yet, from 1945 on, August 6th also marks the beginning of the atomic age. For on this date, the first atomic bomb was used over Hiroshima, Japan. The stark contrast between the two experiences of the “dazzling white light” and what their examples reveal about reality need always to grab out sober attention. For example, in Jesus’ “Transfiguration”, we see the radiant hope of what our life with God is like. In the atomic blast, the only hope offered rests in humanity’s fluctuating willingness not to self-destruct. Biblically and theologically, one of this day’s basic Transfiguration points is that what we see in Jesus, radiant and glorified, is in fact what God intends to see in each of us. And in a month in which we will have two super moons (one came on August 1st and the second will occur on August 30th – and, therefore, is a “Blue Moon”), we have a rather dramatic demonstration of what our lives in Christ are meant to be. Like these moons, large and bright, we are to reflect the light of the “Son” [S-O-N]. Yet, the other main aspect of the Transfiguration story resides in the very human figures of Peter, James, and John. Here is my point: If the Transfigured Jesus is (by God’s grace and mercy) what we shall become, then Peter, James and John are what we so frequently are now. Peter, James, and John were the inner circle of Jesus’ discipleship core. All Galilean fishermen whom Jesus called in quick succession to follow him, this trio was privileged to accompany Jesus in his most intimate, personal moments, frequently those times when Jesus sought the restoration of prayer for himself. Peter, James, and John not only came from the same Sea of Galilee docks, they also – and more importantly -- personally witnessed insights into Jesus’ identity and significance, such as when Jesus invited the three up into Jairus’s daughter’s room where he raised the little girl from death. And as today’s gospel reveals, they also were witnesses to the Lord’s Transfiguration and heard the voice from heaven confirm Jesus as God’s Son and Christ. Tellingly, it was also Peter, James, and John whom Jesus asked to be with him in his loneliest hour in the Garden of Gethsemane. These three not only seem to have had front row seats to the ministry and life of Jesus; they also appear to have had back-stage passes. Again, if what we see in the Transfigured Jesus is what God intends to see in us, then what we see in Peter, James, and John is what you and I are now, as we (like them) try our mortal best to follow Jesus and to reflect his light and life. So it is that I cannot help but take to heart what the Transfiguration icon – the one that is reproduced on our bulletin cover – what it indicates about Peter, James, and John’s response to the Transfiguration of Jesus, and thereby a reflection to our own response to the radiant light of Christ. Today’s gospel tells us (in so many words) that Peter, James, and John were overcome by the dazzling light of Christ, wincing and turning away in fear and awe. And after this epiphany was complete and the smoke cleared from their view, Matthew conveys a remarkably telling thing. The three witnesses “kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.” [9:36] Now I commend you if your mind speeds directly to the Easter morning gospel, where having seen the risen Lord, Mary Magdalene and the other women (according to Mark) scurry frantically from the tomb, avoiding saying anything to any one because “they were afraid.” [Mk. 16:8] At Jesus’ Transfiguration, the three male disciples responded with similar confusion and fear, as any of us would. One might even say -- and I do -- that the Transfiguration of Jesus is a foreshadowing of his resurrection, and so, too, are the responses of his followers to these stunning epiphanies. Both the Transfiguration and the Resurrection reveal our responses to the glorified and triumphant Jesus. We, too, have a hard time dealing with God-in-Christ’s ultimate Christmas gift: that is, the very Word of God in human terms, revealing in the flesh what life with God is like and, in turn, what it is for us to realize that our lives lie in the hands of the Creator of heaven and earth. The point is that like the followers of Jesus, we too often remain in silence about the light of Christ as it shines on us and in us. We, too, are frequently reticent to leave the familiar confines of the shadows of our life and to turn our gaze to God’s life and see ourselves in that revealing state. Having adjusted our vision to the shadows, beholding the light hurts our eyes; and we wince and uncontrollably turn away. Left to our natural devices, we seek the familiar shadows that both comfort us and also make us stumble and fall. To the extent that we allow ourselves to glimpse the radiance of Christ, we glimpse – only glimpse what life with God can be and what we can be. When Peter caught his breath over the dazzling white light of Jesus’ Transfiguration and when he at least recognized the portentous presence of Moses and Elijah, all he could do was suggest building some sort of shrine to mark the magnificent moment. But Peter (as the gospel stingingly recounts) didn’t know what he was saying, and rightfully and mercifully became silent. As was universally the case with Jesus’ disciples, what was foreshadowed on the holy mount was only made clear and transforming after the Lord’s death and resurrection; and even at that, the disciples still ran away in silence. Yet, they came back (all but one) as the news of God’s life being stronger than fear and death sank in, as these novice followers encountered the Lord in new life and slowly, slowly began (like large, satellite moons) to reflect the light of the “Son” [S-O-N]. Here are some questions that occur to me about our own responses to Jesus’ Transfiguration. How can we help one another recognize that through our baptisms our lives are in Christ’s life – no matter what? How can we support one another in honoring the many ways we are called to reflect the transforming, transfiguring light of the “Son” [S-O-N]? How will we work at not keeping silent about the light we have been given and even occasionally glimpse? [Sung] Let my life reflect your light, Lord; as the moon reflects the light of the sun in love – always in love. Amen.