Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Transfiguration of Jesus - August 6

A bishop was astonished to hear a little boy say that a person must be brave to go to church.
"Why do you say that?", the bishop asked.
"Well," said the boy, "I heard my uncle tell my aunt last Sunday that there was a canon in the pulpit, the choir murdered the anthem, and the organist drowned the choir!"

Far more serious things, I believe, threaten the gathering of God's people, the Church. Yet, as St. Peter exclaims in the Gospel story of the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36), " is good for us to be here..." And that is true because our coming together in Eucharist, in thanksgiving, to Jesus is our refuge as we struggle to live in a world of problems, tragedy, disappointment, suffering and bad news. It's a center for renewal, encouragement and refreshment from which we can go back to face those challenges with the Good News of hope and love, proclaimed by Jesus.

The message of the Transfiguration is precisely that there's hope for all of us because God has promised us God's abiding presence, and we have that assurance in Jesus, God's beloved, favored Son. The church of the author of the 2nd Epistle of Peter, c. 30-40 years after Peter's death, deals with much the same things as we do today, particularly the frequent distortion of the Christian message and tradition. 2nd Peter emphasizes the promises which God has made to us, enabling us to avoid such distortion and corruption of what Jesus has taught us.

"1 Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith as precious as ours through the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ:
2 May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
3 His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants in the divine nature. 5 For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, 7 and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. 8 For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. 10 Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. 11 For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you..."

We all fight demons from within and without: from within, because there are times in life when we forget or foolishly turn away from the "precious and very great promises." Can we wonder, then, why we become "short-sighted and blind"? 2nd Peter's community also faced what we face today: demons from without: accusations by those without faith that we have no right, no "proof" to make such claims, that we're simply falling for "myths".

"...12 Therefore I intend to keep on reminding you of these things, though you know them already and are established in the truth that has come to you. 13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to refresh your memory, 14 since I know that my death will come soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. 16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ 18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain..."

For critics and enemies of the Church, all this teaching about Jesus' second coming, much less his first coming, is a humanly devised story, made up to control naive people. 2nd Peter makes two things clear. 1) Peter was an eyewitness to the Transfiguration. It really happened, and the tradition about the second coming isn't just rumor. 2) Godself honors and glorifies Jesus in the Transfiguration. God proclaims: "This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." The experience of the Transfiguration, therefore, isn't made up or secondhand. It really happened, and God's power and majesty which Peter beholds on Mt. Tabor is prophetic and symbolic of how Jesus will be when he appears again to judge the living and the dead. The prophetic message about Jesus' coming again in power, which God revealed, which the Apostles preached and handed down, and which the Church continues to proclaim, has a firm foundation: God's own word and Spirit.

"...19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God."

Jesus, in the Transfiguration, is assured that his impending passion and death isn't the end of the story. The cross is but a preliminary to full glorification in the Resurrection and Ascension. This Transfiguration event in Jesus' life which we celebrate today is God's promise in the process of being fulfilled now and made real for us, each day, as Jesus the Morning Star rises and will finally and fully rise "in [our] hearts" -- in us -- never to set.  That's the reality, the hope, the Good News, which we're to live with and to share in our families, our places of work, and among our friends.

Is it believable? Is it possible?
An unknown 15th century poet put it this way:

Thou shalt know him when he comes,
Not by any din of drums,
Nor by the vantage of his airs,
Nor by anything he wears,
Neither by his crown, 
Nor by his gown,
For his presence known shall be
By the holy harmony
Which his coming makes in thee. 


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