August 6, 2017, Transfiguration YR A

August 8, 2017, The Feast of the Transfiguration Year A
Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:13-21; Luke 9:28-36
The Rev. Anne Abdy


“Didn’t we celebrate this before like sometime in Epiphany?” was the question that Gay posed me as she was preparing the bulletins for this week about three weeks ago. “Yeah, I remember it was the last Sunday after the Epiphany,” I responded. “We did. That’s weird. I’ve never noticed this before.”I know that anytime the Episcopal Lectionary presents the day colored in white it is a principle Holy Day. Then I remembered my liturgics professor saying, “If a principle Feast falls on Sunday, then that is a Holy Day and it trumps the regular Sunday seasonal color and readings.” Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration, and you know we Episcopalians are all about celebrating holy days. That is why you did not hear the beloved story of Jesus breaking bread and fishes for the five thousand.

Holy Women, Holy Men[1] contains all the collects and scriptures for all the saints, holy days, and everyone else that we celebrate. It is a good two inches thick and summarized the scriptures providing an elementary explanation that this feast is held in high esteem by the Eastern Churches as a fore-telling of the resurrection and ascension of Christ. This feast did not make it to the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar till the Reformation and was include in the 1892 Revision of the BCP in the American Church.

The Feast of the Transfiguration was just a local unofficial feast that was adopted before AD 1000. The Orthodox churches believe that this is not only a feast in honor of Jesus, but a feast honoring the Holy Trinity because God speaks, Jesus talks with Moses and Elijah about his departure or exodus, and the Holy Spirit is represented by the cloud. This story is found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and the Second Letter of Peter where all the details described are strikingly similar.

The reading of this passage on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, focuses on the divinity of Christ, while August 6th is the actual feast day for this principle Holy Day. Today the story focus is on Jesus’ visit on a mountain top knowing that the law and the prophets will point him to despair and eventually death. The word “exodus” can symbolize the Moses’ experience with the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Or a departure or going away as in the ascension. Or it can serve to mean death as in “when I am no longer here.”

I remember my first summer at Flathead Lake in Northwest Montana just south of Glacier Park. It was also my first summer of monsoon mid-afternoon thunderstorms. The booming thunder reverberated through the valley floor keeping me up at night. I remember being banished to the “T” dock by the other lifeguards because my hair stood on end from the static electricity.  This is what I imagine the disciples experienced. You and I would probably would say that they saw ghosts; they would say that they were indeed visited by the persons of Moses and Elijah. I imagine that this experience was very bewildering for the disciples.

Jesus goes up a mountain and has this experience knowing that he will have to go down the mountain to fulfill God’s promise to his people. This mountain top story reminds me of my ordination to the priesthood. The music, you, friends from all my walks of life stood with me even when my family wasn’t physically present. It was an exceptional day. It was a holy day.

But another mountain top experience was my Cursillo weekend where I came to understand what it meant to be a disciple of this man called Jesus. I learned what spiritual aids were and how Anglican rosary beads could help me engage in prayer. I realized that a rule of life could help me on my own journey in life. The valley experience happened in the weeks following when I received a letter from my mother refusing to speak to me should I call home because I would not resign my job and moved to South Carolina. It is a long story but this is Christian journey.

We live in the valley much of the time, but we also have those mountain top experiences where we are truly open to God’s glory and God’s love for us because we are fortified by that love. And even in the pain of the valley, there is growth and understanding, although it maybe is not so clear or maybe it is murky, but in hindsight there is clarity. Mountain top experiences allow us to be more open to God’s glory, and the more we are open, the more we are able to see the pain in the world and the God’s role for us in creation.

But even though mountain tops and valleys go naturally together, Christians also live on the plateaus. Not every believer needs the peaks and valleys. I know when I am moving through life on automatic pilot I am living on the plateau. I don’t notice God in creation, the small miracle of a parking space, or the feeling of gratitude for air conditioning. But I have a knowing and I am at peace. I just know that I am cruising right along with a life is good and all is well kind of attitude. It is in times like this that I have to be more intentional about my spiritual practice. But it is also in times like these that I imagine Jesus is walking alongside me. Both of us walk silently along.

However, it is in the valleys that I believe Jesus has a tight firm grip on my hand and before long, he is carrying me. The best way to express that feeling of being unknowingly held is through the famous poem by Mary Stevenson. It is called “Footprints in the Sand”[2] and I want to end by reading it to you.

One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky. In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there were one set of footprints.

This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints.

So I said to the Lord. “You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there have only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, you have not been there for me?

The Lord replied, “The times when you have seen only one set of footprints, is when I carried you.”

On this Feast of The Transfiguration, let’s open our hearts to God’s opportunities in life and then go do God’s work on earth as it is made known by the Spirit.

On this Feast of the Transfiguration, let’s silently walk alongside Jesus, then feel ourselves being lifted and carried through the dark days of our lives.

On this Feast of the Transfiguration, know that this Holy Day is the other version of the story of the Risen Lord made known in our lives.

[1]            Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (New York: Church Pub. Inc., 2010), 508-509.