Preaching, Reflectionary

Pondering the Transfiguration

When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him. (Exodus 34:33-35, NRSV)

Is it any preachers favorite week? My colleagues who have been in ministry for ten or fifteen or twenty years groan over preaching the Transfiguration yet again. In year one and two and three, I heard them whinge and moan, and I wondered why. I felt I had something to say. I imagined I would never find the well so dry.

Then came year four. Oy. Oy vey, even. I.had.nothing. After meeting with my preacher group I was thinking about the admonition to the disciples to be silent, and I opened a Word file with the title "Gospel Confidential." It contains one sentence, and that one is a question:

Why can’t we talk about it?

Not that it’s a bad question or anything, but seriously, that was not enough.

The only thing I seemed to want to write about was a bad date story, about a date that might really have been good. I ended up preaching it. I’m not sure how much it had to do with the Transfiguration, but it preached.

This year, I want to do something really good with the texts.

Okay, there’s something wrong with that sentence. Every year, every week, I want to do something really good with the texts. Every week I want the message to be special, to open the word of God in a way that has particular meaning in the local context, to be inventive and creative and worthy of being preached.

I used to sing in the fabulous choir at Large Church, and the music director’s favorite anthem for the Transfiguration was huge and spooky and difficult and beautiful. No sermon I ever heard about it ever came close to expressing the unearthly quality of the thin place to which Jesus led his disciples. I wish I could hear it again, although much of it is still available in my mind.

Today I drove along a winding country road, uphill and down, snow on the rock walls and the aging barns and sun bright on the snow. I remembered times I felt the presence of God in nature and considered how I might weave them into a sermon.

The scenery grew less interesting as I came back into town. I slowed to turn up the drive of an assisted living center and later came closer to civilization for a home visit. I looked out a window with a retired nurse and saw a view that needed painting, another rock wall, more sunlit snow, bare winter trees. I received a finger-crushing hand embrace from a man of 96 who can hardly stand but still has strength.

And then I received a warm and excited greeting from someone who had every reason to be low. We sat in her living room, where she smiled and said, "You’re so pretty. I could just sit and look at you."

Surprised, I did not answer immediately.

"But you must hear that all the time," she said.

No, no I don’t. But coming face to face with the beauty of God’s creation and the people in it can do that to a girl.

19 thoughts on “Pondering the Transfiguration”

  1. Your last anecdote makes me think of the times I’ve heard the same comment. Never when I expect it, or try for it; and almost always when I’m bird-dogging something about Blake, or poetry, or whatever.
    I never know what to do with it, and I suppose part of the lesson is that I’m not necessarily SUPPOSED to do anything with it. But that’s hard to accept sometimes; like a blessing that someone else can see, and you can’t, a blessing that’s wrapped around you but that you can’t touch.

  2. The transfiguration … yeah. Not that I’ve been an actual paid preacher dude all that long, but between this and preaching gigs in seminary, it does seem like I’ve done quite a few.
    If I only had one congregation, I think I might focus on a roof; but with two, I’m not sure how I can pull that off.
    I’ll have to think about that though, it’s still early in the week.

  3. Jane Dark, how do you suppose the whole scene looked to Jesus? I love the way you wrote that last sentence.
    RevRef, my favorite sermon for this Sunday was all about Peter and his practicality and our all-too-human urge to preserve the moment instead of experiencing it (sort of like weddings dominated by the photographer, as if the ceremony is merely a photo shoot).

  4. Songbird, I used an interesting interpretation in an article I wrote on beauty and an aesthetic spirituality. Gregory Palamas (14th c.) said that it was the disciples who were changed, not Christ. Christ was transfigured in that the disciples were able in that moment to see him as he truly was. The whole piece is on cultivating a spirituality of seeing the world deeply, beneath the surface appearance of things.

  5. We keep the feast later in the year, so I’m off the hook…but my take is nearly always around the human need to preserve the moment. In an Anglican church there is so much sense of God in the past that it’s often hard to prevent any number of booths from replacing the living reality.
    I love what you’ve written here. So beautiful. x

  6. My neutral pulpit for St Stoic’s search commitee was T-fig. What they saw in me, I don’t know. I feel as if I don’t know a single thing about it. I’ts right up there with Trinity Sunday, which was what I preached on my first Sunday there–my ordination day.
    This, however, is lovely and would totally preach!

  7. Ah Transfiguration. Dh and I were talking about this when we were falling asleep last night (yes, sexy preacher talk I know). Dh was contemplating a very similar blog post. When I read this I said, “Songbird beat you to it.”
    I am thinking about ghost stories in relation to this passage…
    Great post, btw. It could be the first few paragraphs of your sermon.

  8. what a wonderful message Songbird- and I guess that is how we should feel about Jesus- You’re so wonderful I could just sit and look at you….
    thank you for sharing this

  9. The snow storm is stronger and lasting longer than anticipated…I hope there is lots left for those on the East Coast who want/need a snow day…it is wild out there!!!

  10. When I think of transfiguration I think of larvae and the three hundred tulip bulbs buried under the feet of snow the sixth graders planted this fall in front of school. It is hard to imagine they will change, but in due season, the first will become a butterfly or moth and have the freedom to fly, the other the strength to break through the frozen earth and open their brilliant face to the sun. I have a picture of a torn curtain done by an artist friend of mine, “the veil has been rent” he told me. In your face, this woman sees Christ’s face, Jesus with skin on, that’s transfiguration, we are His hand and feet on this earth. What a blessing you are.

  11. Great post (and comments, too), thanks! T-Fig is one of my favorite Sundays to preach, and one that as a freelancer I often get asked to preach, since Lent with everything it’s supposed to imply follows immediately. Blessings!

  12. Kathy, I don’t remember. It’s probably been 7 or 8 years since I last sang or heard it. If I can remember, I’ll let you know.
    Leah, I suppose all supply preachers would do well to like the Transfiguration as well as the Sundays after Christmas and Easter!

  13. Transfiguration means transformation. There is a change, a difference in a person in how they understand and live.
    It would be a humbling experience to be transformed and ‘glow’. If someone told you that they saw it in you…what would you say?
    What could you say?
    Is it necessary to say anything?
    I have seen colleagues be like that when they preach..they are alight with a joy streaming out in words and in their faces.
    They do not speak of it, except a ‘thanks’.
    We are partners with the God of love who transforms us as we allow and sometimes we are changed about some thing and don’t know it until someone offers a reflection…sort of a mirroring.
    The inside gut feeling is, well … are there words in our human language to cover this? I don’t think so.

  14. Thank you for your thoughts about the Transfiguration. I have been able to use these to inspire the children at my primary school (570) in our Lenten liturgy to be held tomorrow. Thank you.

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