Transfiguration Sunday 2018
We hear the story of the Transfiguration twice a year in church. The first is the last Sunday of Epiphany and then again at the feast of the transfiguration on August 6th. I have been ordained 26 years, and it is always so humbling to try to preach the Transfiguration on the 6th of August. As you remember, it is also the anniversary of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The dichotomy of thinking of this cloud in the sky offering life and transformation and this horrible, horrible image and reality of death and violence--I always think about that. This is a beautifully strange Sunday, a beautifully strange celebration, that happens in season that is mostly about unrequited longing and fulfillment. And yet, that we get these moments of pure vision...
I also think of this as “Baby Ruth Sunday" because this is the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. I always gave up Baby Ruths for Lent when I was a kid. So every time I hear this Gospel, I have a Pavlovian Response and want to eat Baby Ruths because Lent is coming. This is the week we get to think about what we want for our Lenten season: what we want to take on, what we want to give up, how we want to be clear. This is the moment before, the moment that hangs in the balance between the divine light of Epiphany and the beautiful season of reckoning in Lent.
This simple, but powerful, Gospel has so much to teach us about the journey. We remember it is not what we are looking at, but what we see. It’s all about this idea that the Transfiguration of Jesus is actually about transfiguring us. The Gospel writer tells us that the moment before the Transfiguration, the disciples are wandering around hurriedly, wondering what this ministry means; but soon as there is the moment of Transfiguration, their eyes are set on Jerusalem.
Transfiguration gives us hawk eyes: clarity, vision, freedom from distractions. The needs of the world did not change before the Transfiguration or afterwards, but the destination became more urgent and poignant. So, for us. in our lives as we seek transfiguration and moments of clarity, we cannot be distracted. (Remember this passage was written before social media...) We know the goal. We know the destination. On the spiritual path, the destination is important, not the just the journey. We’re headed toward love, so don’t be distracted by all things that will call you away in your life. It's a a time for hawk eyes.
The second lesson of this Transfiguration is about embodiment. This was not just a head trip. This was a “body” trip where there was glowing and fear. There was physical change. They get there, not out of the blue, but out of a lot of hard work and giving up so much. That’s how they get to the mountain. They get there at the cost of a lot in their lives, and they walk up there together in a community. So, then I ask how are we transformed and transfigured in these bodies?
The third and final point of this passage, along with the reminder of how important hawk eyes are and the connection between physical and spiritual transformation, is that transfiguration is always the aftermath. You get these moments of insight, a glimpsing at glory and the beauty of the heavens touching the earth. And there’s a cost, and the cost is the change in us.
Don’t be mistaken. The disciples are changing more radically than any white garments that Jesus displayed. They are tearful and fearful and excited and inspired; their lives are different forever. If you long for transfiguration, be prepared to change.
And that sucks. It’s hard to change. It’s hard for me to change. It’s hard for me to say, “I need to let go. Or I need to take on. Or I need to feel different in this world. Or I need to understand the world differently. Or I need to pray differently. Or I need to act differently.” Those are true for all of us. We need to change if we long for transfiguration. If we want to love and glimpse at this wondrous gift, we have to change.
This weekend, I was preaching at the Diocesan Ministry Convention in Northern Indiana, and they were talking about transformation. They were asking how do we as a diocese hope in community, learn from each other, how do we make changes in this world?
The bishop was upfront, a beautiful, kind man, and they invited us to begin that transformation with the hundred of us all gathered in a circle at that moment. Jennifer, one of the Thistle Farms’ Survivor Leaders was in the back. She lit the the candle and offered the words that we use to begin the weekly meditation circle at Thistle Farms saying, “We light this candle for the women on the streets, and we light this candle for the women trying to find their way home.” In my head, I was thinking, "Isn’t that the way it is?" She has the Simeon viewpoint in the back. She is going to have to speak in a loud voice because the mics are all up front.
Jennifer who is such a powerful, powerful witness on the road said, “I’m the person that you feared when I was on the streets, when you walked by me. I was the person in prison that you may have prayed for, but didn’t come visit, I represent the hundreds of women who are still trying to find their way home. And now I have become the light.” When she lit the candle, I looked back up and realized in very back of this cathedral was a beautiful stained glass window of St. Andrew. St Andrew was raising his hand in a blessing, and the sun was hitting it just right so the glowing in the stained glass was falling on Jennifer, the light that was lighting the candle for everyone else.
Just for a minute, I got to see it, the light that changes everything it touches.
I wish we could live like that all the time. We see this light shining down on each other and the face of God. Everything else goes away, and you do want to stay there. You do want to say, “Can we just stay a little while longer in this beautiful peace and love, where all our judgements get passed aside and where all our fears about our own place in this world get left behind and we just feel love?” I want to live like that so bad, and I am so grateful to Jennifer for the light that she brought. Thank God for when we get to see it and when we get to live in it.
May we have those hawk eyes to experience it and take it in. May we have the journey and the destination clearly in our mind. May we embody it with everything we have, and may we be humble and courageous enough to live it out.