Sermon; Feast of the Transfiguration; Luke 9:28-36
Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration. We don't get to celebrate this feast very often because it has a fixed, non-transferable day of August 6. That being said, the BCP rubrics do state that when this feast falls on a Sunday it takes precedence over the regularly scheduled Propers. So on this day we celebrate a theophany, a glimpse of the eternal God in the here and now, a revelation into the true nature of Jesus, and a recognition of the transfiguration event as a bright, sometimes blinding, light shining in dark places.
This idea of Christ's light shining in the darkness may be why the feast is celebrated on this day. Pope Callixtus III ordered its celebration on August 6 to commemorate the successful defense of Belgrade from the Ottomans in 1456 – because nothing says, “the light of Christ” quite like a military victory over the forces of evil . . . But I digress.
As I said, today is the actual date of the Feast of the Transfiguration. As we celebrate this event, there are several things to consider.
First, we need to look at some background material. At the end of Chapter 8, Jesus raises Jairus' daughter from the dead. In the room with him were Peter, John, and James.
As we move into Chapter 9, Jesus sends out the twelve to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. Luke says that they were successful in that mission. Upon their return he takes them away to a private place to debrief. During this time of solitude, however, crowds gather to hear Jesus preach and to be healed. And at the close of the day we have the story of the feeding of the five thousand.
Later, when they are alone, Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter confesses him to be the Messiah, and Jesus talks about his Passion and what it takes to be a disciple – take up your cross daily. All of this brings us to today's gospel.
About eight days after these sayings, Jesus took with him Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain. While there Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah, when a cloud overshadows them, terrifying the disciples in the process. There are some major points in this story we can't overlook.
Eight days later. There are seven days in a week. The eighth day, then, is the first day of the week. On the first day, God created. It was also on the first day of the week that the women went to the empty tomb. The eighth day is symbolic of the first day of the new creation.
Peter, John, and James were with him on the mountain. These were the same three who were with him a short time earlier when he raised Jairus' daughter from the dead. These three witnessed his power to restore life. And now these three are witnesses to Christ in his eternal glory, Jesus as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets (as indicated by the presence of Moses and Elijah), and the voice of God confirming Jesus as his holy son.
This event took place on a mountain, a traditional place of holy events. It was on a mountain that God spared Isaac. It was on a mountain that Moses received the law. It is on a mountain that the Lord's house will be established. And it is here, on a mountain, that Jesus is transfigured and revealed.
A cloud overshadowed them and they were terrified. That word “overshadow” occurs only four times in the gospels, and once as a synonym in Acts. Three of those times are in reference to the Transfiguration when the cloud overshadows the disciples and they were terrified. Once occurs in Luke 1 when an angel tells Mary not to be afraid and that the power of the Most High will overshadow her, causing her child to be holy. And the synonymous time occurs in Acts 1 when the disciples are told that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon, or overshadows, them. This overshadowing act is symbolic both of God's presence and the terror of being within that presence.
The story of the Transfiguration is deeply symbolic and deeply meaningful. It refers to a new day of creation. It points out the true nature of Christ in the revealing of his holy light. It references the fulfillment of all God is working toward in the law and the prophets. And, maybe more than anything else, it points us to a significant change in how we can see the world through the light and power of God in Christ.
But all that I have just said is not the only focus on this day. Yes, there are theological implications of the Transfiguration event – the dazzling light of Christ, the glimpse into his true nature, and the cloud that overshadowed and terrified the people all have a theological construct. They also all have a practical construct as we can use this event to help inform and change our lives.
August 6 is also the date of another transfiguration event of sorts. On this day there was a blinding light that gave us a glimpse of the nature of humanity. On this day a cloud overshadowed and terrified a multitude of people. On this day there was a momentous event that informs and shapes our lives in any number of ways.
It was on this day when a plane named Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima. On this day, August 6, 1945, there was a flash of blinding light and a cloud overshadowed and terrified the people. On this day, the world was transfigured.
Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration. On this day we remember two world-changing events – the dazzling light of Christ and the overshadowing power of God is paired with the blinding light of nuclear warfare and the overshadowing power of people to inflict untold harm on each other.
As we recall both these events, my question to you is this: Which event do you want to make the defining moment of your life?