A Sermon by the Rev. Elizabeth Costello
Associate Rector of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church
In Fort Washington, Pennsylvania
Delivered on Sunday, August 6, 2017
This morning we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. This major feast is so important that it overrides the proper’s for Sunday. So, we skip the collect and readings for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost and switch to the Feast of the Transfiguration. It is a feast that is celebrated on August 6 by the church in the East and the West. It is a joy to think about fellow Christians from the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and many Protestant denominations all celebrating this feast together! As part of the body of Christ, we join them in this celebration!
The Feast of the Transfiguration’s importance lies in what it tells us about Jesus, and what it means for us today.
The Transfiguration has often been paired with the Resurrection. In many ways, the transfiguration is a foretaste to the Resurrection. As Jesus’ divinity lights up his humanity, he is transformed in front of the disciples into something new. Transfigured, the disciples get a preview of how Jesus’ divinity will resurrect his crucified body. Ultimately, what the transfigured Christ reveals to us is his divinity. That Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.
The writer of Luke’s gospel tries to show us this through the transfigured Christ. Jesus’ divinity enables him to undergo a metamorphosis in front of the disciples. The writer of the gospel goes so far as to include Moses and Elijah. Moses, whose face shone from his encounter with God, was the giver of the law to Israel. Moses’ presence solidifies Jesus as the continuation and fulfillment of that law. Elijah, who is also there, is one of two prophets who ascended into heaven. He is the prophet for whom Israel is waiting to come again. And his presence signifies Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. And if this were all not enough to affirm Jesus’ divinity, God the Father’s voice proclaims from a cloud, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
For the disciples, this picture of Jesus could not have come at a better time. Just after the transfiguration, the disciples follow Jesus to Jerusalem, where he will be crucified. Knowing that his hour was drawing near, Jesus leads the disciples to God’s presence. Jesus does what he constantly does, as he leads the disciples deeper into the presence of God the Father. And there in God’s presence, he shows them the light that will vanquish darkness. There in God’s presence, Jesus shows them God’s glory. In God’s presence, Jesus’ transfigured body serves as a reminder to the disciples, a reminder of the glory and light that humanity shared with God in the Garden of Eden. The transfigured Christ is a reminder of who they are, and an invitation to share in God’s light and glory again. Jesus’ transfiguration means that the disciples can be transfigured too!
This is good news for us this morning. What the transfiguration means for us today is that we too can be transfigured! We can share in this divine glory and light. As baptized Christians who received the light of Christ, we can embody this glory and light in the world!
I don’t know about you, but I find it strange that the church does not make a bigger deal about living a transfigured life. When I read about discipleship, a fancy word for being a follower of Jesus, I often read about living a resurrected life or even a crucified life. Whenever I read about finding Jesus in my everyday life, say in those I encounter or serve, I often read about encountering the resurrected Christ or the crucified Christ. I read very little about seeing the transfigured Christ, let alone about being transfigured myself.
About six months ago, when the gospel on the transfiguration was read on the last Sunday of Epiphany, I began praying that God would show me the transfigured Christ in those I served. I began looking around for the transfiguration in my own life. And while my prayers are not always answered, or answered in a timely manner, four days later I had my own encounter with the transfigured Christ.
On a day like any other, I brought Holy Communion to a parishioner named Letti. Letti was in her early nineties and lived with her daughter and son-in-law. She had recently suffered a fall, and during the visit, shared about her ninety-year-old body’s painstakingly-slow recovery.
When the visit was over, I headed towards the door and noticed a piano. I asked, “Who plays?” Her son-in-law said that Letti played. In fact, she played every single day. He asked if I wanted to stay and hear her play a song, and I said, “Of course!”
Slowly, Letti got up from her chair and used her walker to make her way to the piano bench. When she got to the piano bench, she slowly lowered herself down. She straightened her posture, placed her arthritic fingers over the keys, looked at the music, and without wasting a millisecond started playing.
She played with such vigor and passion I thought I was seeing a different person. As she played she underwent a metamorphosis. She was changed. Her entire being glowed! After a rousing finish and a hearty applause, Letti stood up, smiled through her eyes, and said, “Come again!”
In this mountaintop performance, she elevated the entire room. In her human frailty, God’s glory and light illuminated her entire being. And in this moment, I recognized the transfigured Christ for the first time.
I wonder, when have you seen the transfigured Christ? When have you undergone your own metamorphosis?
Perhaps you saw your child transfigured as they ran down the soccer field after scoring the winning goal. Or maybe you saw creation transfigured, while walking on that familiar beach transformed by the golden light of a 4:00 p.m. sunset. Or perhaps you had your own transformation after going to church and singing praises to God, or after gaining a new understanding of scripture at a Bible study. When have you been transfigured?
Over the next year, our church will focus on this theme of transformation. Over the last few months, Marek led a group of lay leaders, staff, and clergy and came up with the theme “Transforming Together.” As a church community, we focus on this theme of “transformation” in our worship, formation, music, and service. I am excited to take this journey with you all and to witness transformation in our community.
This morning, Jesus does what he is constantly doing, leading the disciples deeper into God’s presence. He leads them to the mountaintop, so they can see his divinity, and so that they can hear God’s voice say, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.” My guess is that Jesus’ voice led you here this morning. So let us continue to listen to him as we worship, receive him in the Eucharist, and leave church. By God’s grace, may we encounter him in glory and light and be changed, so that we can reflect God’s glory and light in our world.