FEAST OF THE TRANSFIGURATION OF JESUS
February 19, 2023
2 Peter 1:16-21
Yesterday morning, in my daily encounter with the Rule of Benedict, I read our patron saint’s instructions about when “Alleluia!” may be proclaimed during the liturgical year. It was one of those cases of a meaningful coincidence. I realized that this morning’s gospel acclamation would be the last time we will proclaim “Alleluia!” for roughly the next seven weeks. This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and we will not use the “A-word” again in any of our liturgies until it is resurrected at the Easter Vigil. It is a sort of liturgical fast that we undergo in the darkening season of Lent. But not quite yet…
Today we have the luminous Feast of the Transfiguration. In some Christian traditions, today is the final Sunday in Epiphanytide: the weeks between the Feast of the Epiphany and the last day before Ash Wednesday. Today is, you might say, the climax of Epiphanytide. Journeying from Epiphany, when the light of heaven and the light of the community shone on the newborn Jesus, we have arrived at today, when the divine light shines in and from the mature Jesus…the Beloved One, with whom… [God]…is well pleased. Today we celebrate a local manifestation of the Incarnation. We celebrate the shining forth of the Divine Mystery in all creation as manifested in the person, Jesus of Nazareth. Today is an axial moment, a pivot point in our liturgical year. We are near the eve of our entrance into Lent, the time of ashes; our forty days in the desert when we dare not say “Alleluia!” Right at this turning point, we are given the Transfiguration: a glimpse of the full expression of glory that will be celebrated in our Easter liturgies. From Mount Tabor, the legendary site of this mysterious, luminous event, we can look back over the weeks since Epiphany, in which we have watched Jesus mature into his ministry. We can also pivot and look forward into a time of dryness, a time of turning inward and reflecting, a time of self-denial, and, finally, a walk to Jerusalem and the Cross. At this point in our journey, through this story of the Transfiguration, we are given a little something–I’ll call it a little flame–a little flame to protect and tend in the dry Lenten darkness of our Inner Room. So, what is this little flame? That’s an inquiry I want to pursue with you for a while this morning.
In reading about the Transfiguration, I have learned that the Eastern Orthodox tradition gives it much more attention than the Crucifixion. The Eastern church puts great emphasis on deification–in the Greek, theosis–as the central purpose of the Christian life. That is, the purpose of our Christian life in this world is to realize the divinity, the Christhood, that is in each of us…the Christhood that is our true self. The divine radiance shining from Jesus that Peter, James, and John witnessed on Mt. Tabor revealed to them what it means to be fully human. The second century Greek bishop, Irenaeus, put it simply and clearly: “The human being fully alive is the glory of God.” Or, as the scholar, John A. McGuckin, has noted: “When the disciple comes before the mystery of the Transfiguration he sees an image of his true face that he has known but long since forgotten.” You might say that the purpose of this story from Matthew’s gospel, and indeed the purpose of so much of our scripture and liturgy, is to remember…to remember and to seal in our hearts, this truth that we all too easily forget: that each of us is in Christ…the phrase that Paul repeats more than any other in his letters. Each of us is a shining forth of the divine nature in and through our own unique, concrete form. Each of us is a unique way that Eternity is made real and concrete in the world of time. The 13th century Dominican priest and mystic, Meister Eckhart, employs a wonderful grammatical analogy to illuminate this truth. He describes each human being as a unique adverb to the big verb that is God. Each of us modifies the Divine Verb in our particular way and, thereby, through us, the Divine Mystery acts in the world.
But…BUT, I think this view is still too limited. I think we have to expand our vision beyond our human world. Many contemporary thinkers and seekers, some of them right here in our Holy Wisdom community, are coming to a more expansive understanding of the Incarnation. We are coming to embrace the truth that Incarnation is not limited to an event that happened in a manger in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. We are beginning to embrace the view that Incarnation is the deep, the ultimate, reality of all matter. As Richard Rohr puts it so jauntily, we are finally realizing that “Christ” is not Jesus’s last name. Our emerging understanding is that “Christ” refers to the mystery of the eternal spirit manifesting in all that exists in the temporal world…in all of Creation, eternally, from the beginning. All things shine with the Light of the Divine Mystery, with the Light of Christ. For us, as humans and, dare I say, as maturing Christians, perhaps we are finally beginning to develop some humility about our place in Creation. We are coming to realize that all us “Adverbs of God”–whether animal, vegetable, or mineral–all of us are just nestled together, side-by-side like muskrats in the mud of this life. And occasionally, when we remember and accept who and what we truly are, we rise from the mud like a lotus bud and blossom with the radiant light of our divine source. We momentarily are graced with an awakening to the fact that we ourselves, and every created thing, is the Beloved with whom our God is well pleased.
So, as we depart today and turn toward Lent, toward the growing darkness of our Inner Room, let us remember that we each have that little flame of our Christhood flickering there. Through prayer and loving service, we guard it and nurture it as the source of our faith and hope in the blazing light of the Easter to come. Amen…and one last time for the road, Alleluia!
Mr. McKee thank you for your comments. I especially appreciated what you said after “but” as I too think that points us in a more meaningful direction. And I also appreciated the visual of tending the little flame. Thanks again.