The gospel isn’t meant to be gulped down on Sunday morning, but gnawed on through the week so it really becomes a part of us. You’ve got to work at it, like a dog with a good bone! Here’s the Gospel for this coming Sunday — the Feast of the Transfiguration — with food for thought on holy ground and the power of God’s love to transfigure and transform … Gnaw away!
The Feast of the Transfiguration: Luke 9:28-36
About eight days after Peter had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ of God, Jesus took Peter and John and James, and went up onto a mountain to pray. While Jesus was praying, his face changed in appearance, and the clothes he wore became dazzling white. Suddenly two people were there talking with Jesus – Moses and Elijah. They appeared in glory and spoke of the prophecy that Jesus was about to fulfill in Jerusalem. Peter and the others had already fallen into a deep sleep; but awakening, they saw Jesus’ glory – -and the two people who were standing next to him. When the two were leaving, Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, how good it is for us to be here! Let’s set up three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah!” Peter didn’t really know what he was saying. While Peter was speaking, a cloud came and overshadowed them and the disciples grew fearful as the others entered it. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Own, my Chosen One. Listen to him!”
When the voice finished speaking, they saw no one but Jesus standing there. The disciples kept quiet, telling nothing of what they had seen at that time to anyone.
The Backstory – What’s Going On Here?
We jump out of sequence (and out of Matthew into Luke) for one Sunday for this story of the
Transfiguration. If this sounds familiar, it’s because we read it (in Matthew) at the end of February. It is a Protestant custom to read this story the Sunday before Lent (Roman Catholics usually read it the second Sunday of Lent). We read it now because this year, the Feast of the Transfiguration (August 6) happens to fall on a Sunday.
Just before this in chapter 9, Peter confesses Jesus as “the Messiah of God.” Then, contrary to the people’s hopes for the messiah as a deliverer of military victory, Jesus says that his messiahship is about suffering, and rejection and death … and that following him involves taking up crosses and losing your life to save it.
We can suppose that this message was disturbing and challenging to the disciples. We can suppose that there might have been some doubt that they were backing the wrong horse! And so the Transfiguration is confirmation that it is indeed God who is doing this new thing.
A few things to chew on:
Luke makes a point of saying that Peter, James and John had fallen asleep but woke up … and because they did ” they saw Jesus’ glory — and the two people who were standing next to him.” (Contrast this to the disciples in the garden of Gethsemane who “could not stay awake one hour.”) Waking up, being alert despite distraction or weariness, is a theme that comes up often in the Gospel. Do you have a story in your life where Christ has been shown to you in a new way or in a powerful way because you were able to stay awake or focused through distraction? Do you have an experience where you have been challenged to “get woke” by someone who is offering a reality different from your own?
Peter’s reaction is so incredibly human. He experiences something powerful that he loves and wants to enshrine it – to make it last forever. We naturally want to hold on to what we love. It’s why people – particularly parents — often cry at weddings. But the voice of God in the story says something different. “This is my Own, my Chosen One, listen to him.” This is not about capturing an event, it is about a relationship. Following the relationship leads down the mountain, back into their lives. Think about the customs and traditions — in your family, work, school, church, etc — that you treasure. How much are they about enshrining an experience and how much are they about deepening a relationship?
Think about Peter, James and John. James and John had been brothers for decades and we can imagine Peter as a longtime friend. Think about where their lives were at the beginning of the Gospel reading last week … just fishermen mending their nets. Think about what they are witnessing here … even without knowing the rest of the story. What a journey that was for
brothers and friends! Imagine that. What do you think that did to their relationship? What was it like to go through all that together? How do you think it would have been different for them if they hadn’t known each other but had come together as strangers? (Hint … there are no right or wrong answers here!)
Transfigurations happen all the time. The world, our lives, are continually changing, being transfigured. It’s happening right now outside as the snow falls. Take 5-10 minutes each day this week and think about times of change in your life … where you could feel yourself becoming different. When was the last time you felt that way? Do you feel that way now? Where is God in the process?
Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus. For Peter, James and John, these were the ancestors – the sacred people who had come before them. Ancestors are important. They are a piece of who we are. Even as Jesus was showing these disciples what the future was going to be, the ancestors were there with him. This week as you journal, write about your ancestors. Who are they? What role do they play in your life as you look to the future God toward which is calling you?
As far as I’m concerned, there are three mystical places in the world: the desert outside Santa Fe; the tree of life in the Arab emirates of Bahrain; and the restaurant at Sunset and Crescent, because that’s where I first met her and touched her. ~ Steve Martin, L.A. Story
Holiness happens when the deep beauty of God breaks through in ways that are overwhelmingly powerful. When something is so undeniably beyond us makes us realize that we are subject to forces we can’t hope to even apprehend, much less control.
Holiness can happen as we stare into the abyss of the Grand Canyon or gaze in wonder at the images from Hubble. It can happen in a hospital room as we witness life enter and leave this world in the blink of an eye.
And it can happen, like it did for Steve Martin, at a restaurant right here in Los Angeles, because that’s where he first met and touched someone who changed his life.
Holiness happened to Peter, James and John in many ways in this Gospel reading. They saw a spectacular sight — a divine cloud coming and overshadowing them. They saw faces transfigured and great figures from history appear before them.
But even more than that, they had an intimate, shared experience of relationship with Jesus and each other. And that, more than anything, was the holiness that changed them.
Almost every day, people walk into All Saints Church for the first time … and their reaction is usually the same. It is the reaction of the person standing on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Like those disciples faced with the prophets and the cloud, they are overwhelmed by the holiness of the space — and rightly so … it’s pretty amazing!
But what really makes All Saints Church holy is not the beauty of the space or the music or the preaching. What makes and has always made All Saints Church holy is the relationship that has happened and happens there.
For more than a century, Los Angeles and Pasadena have come into All Saints Church to lay ourselves bare at the most important points in our life. We have knelt there to pray for loved ones’ recovery and to weep when the recovery didn’t happen. We have given thanks here for new jobs and taken shelter here when our unemployment has left us out on the street. We have been challenged by the diversity of people that gather under this roof, and have made life-changing friendships with the last people we would have expected.
All Saints Church is a holy place not because of its outward beauty, but because for more than 100 years it is where we have come together to meet Christ in one another. Because for more than 100 years it has been holy ground of transfiguration for this congregation, this city, this region and beyond.
Holiness happens … transfiguration happens … at All Saints Church when we dare to be real with one another. When we dare to be vulnerable to God and one another. When we dare to name the brokenness that exists in our society and let things we hold most dear be challenged as we work together to heal it.
Holiness happens at All Saints Church when it becomes not just a beautiful building or National Historic Landmark but when, like that mountain and that café at Sunset and Crescent, we remember it as the place we met Jesus. A place we then want to bring other people to, as well.
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Check out the rest of Sunday’s readings
The Lectionary Page has all of the readings for this Sunday and every Sunday – click here for this Sunday’s readings.
Collect for Sunday: Pray this throughout the week as you gnaw on this Gospel.
O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the Chosen One in his beauty; who with you, O Father, and you, O Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Gnaw On This is a weekly publication by Mike Kinman, the Rector of All Saints Church.