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The Transfiguration of the Lord
August 6, 2023

Watch this homily! (Begins at 38:00)

      The scriptures are replete with stories of people meeting God on mountaintops. Moses, you may recall, had not one, but two such meetings: the first was while he was tending the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro. God spoke to him in the mysterious burning bush revealing his name to him, thereby giving Moses a certain power over God, if I may put it that way. The second was accompanied by thunder, lightning, and a great earthquake, as God gave Moses the Commandments of the Law and entered into an everlasting Covenant with the Chosen People.

     Long years later, the prophet Elijah met God on that same mountaintop, but Elijah’s meeting with God was quite different: he met God, not in thunder, lightning or earthquake, but in the gentlest, smallest wisp of a breeze, in a “still, small voice.”

     In light of those mountaintop experiences of God, it’s not surprising that the two people who appeared with Jesus in his mountaintop meeting with God on the Mount of Transfiguration were those same two giants of the Jewish Scriptures, Moses and Elijah. The two of them speak of the Law and the Prophets, of course, but their radically different experiences of the divine also speak of a God wrapped in mystery, a God who defies definition, a God of awesome majesty, yes, but also a God who is warmly, gently approachable. I think mountain climbers must have similar experiences of both the awesome grandeur and the intimate closeness of God.

     Today’s story of the Transfiguration adds to the scriptural stories about people meeting God on mountaintops. Here, it’s Peter, James and John who get the glimpse of glory; Peter, James and John, that inner circle among the twelve who see Jesus radiant with the glory of God, transfigured before their very eyes, his face dazzling as the sun, his clothing white as light, his deep communion with his Father so intense that his whole being becomes luminous with glory. The way Luke tells the story in his gospel, Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus about his coming passion and death in Jerusalem, but Matthew’s version which we just heard simply says that they were conversing with Jesus. Whether Peter, James and John were party to that conversation, we don’t know. What we do know is that Peter spoke up – it’s something Peter often does in the gospels (and not always with a lot of prior thought!). But I have to think that Peter was speaking for the other two apostles – and also for all of us – when he blurted out, “Lord, how good it is for us to be here! With your permission I will build three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” In other words, ‘Lord, please make this moment last forever!

     But mountaintop moments don’t last forever, unfortunately! More often than not, they can be the most passing of all moments: flashes of glory followed by flat days and months – maybe even years - without so much as a hint of glory. But the important thing, my friends, is that they happen at all, and it’s ever so important that we not miss them when they do.

     Scripture scholars have long debated over just who the Transfiguration was for. Was it to sustain Jesus during the approaching ordeal of his passion and death? Or was it to confirm the apostles in their faith during the coming dark days when it all would appear to be lost? Or was it for the likes of you and me? I tend to think it was for all three. And I also think of the Transfiguration as a gift from God which burned its mark deep into the consciousness of Jesus and the three apostles, changing forever their understanding of themselves and of their destiny. 

     It can do the same for us because, my friends, God gives us mountaintop moments, too - perhaps even more than we know - moments when we come to a deeper awareness of who we are or, even more importantly, of who God is. The “mountaintops” I’m thinking of are many and varied: the warm brilliance of a summer day, the pounding surf on an ocean beach, the joy of a long-cherished goal finally achieved, the tender embrace of one’s beloved, the feeling of closeness to God in prayer, the miraculous moment when a child is born, the crescendo of a great symphony, the heart-rending voice of a single violin. All of these, and countless other human experiences, are mountaintops where God is trying to get our attention.

     And then there is that most unlikely of all transfigurations – this one not from the dull to the dazzling as happened on Mount Tabor, but just the opposite - a counter-transfiguration if you will: the transfiguration from the awesome to the ordinary. I’m speaking of the Transfiguration that will take place in a very few minutes right here on our altar when the awesome and mysterious Godhead will come among us in the most ordinary of ways - in simple bread and wine as our food and drink. Here, more than anywhere else, ears of faith can hear those words once spoken on the mountaintop, “This is my Son, my chosen one!” Our response, my friends, can only be the response of Peter, “Lord, how good it is for us to be here!”

Father Michael G. Ryan





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Seattle, Washington  98104
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