Tuesday, 30 July 2019
Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
6 August 2019,
Tuesday next, 6 August 2019, is the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. The Book of Common Prayer allows Festival such as the Transfiguration to be celebrated on the Sunday in the same week (p 21), so some parishes may find these resources valuable for next Sunday [4 August 2019].
The appointed readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for the Feast of the Transfiguration as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland are:
Readings: Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14; Psalm 97; II Peter 1: 16-19; Luke 9: 28-36.
There is a link to the readings HERE.
The resources for Sunday 4 August 2019, the Seventh Sunday after Trinity, were posted on Monday morning, and are available HERE.
Introduction: The Transfiguration, the Biblical story
The Transfiguration is described in the three Synoptic Gospels (see Matthew 17: 1-9; Mark 9: 2-8; Luke 9: 28-36). In addition, there may be allusions to the Transfiguration in John 1: 14 and in the New Testament reading provided for the Feast of the Transfiguration (II Peter 1: 16-19), in which the Apostle Peter describes himself as an eyewitness ‘of his sovereign majesty’ (verse 16).
Of course, there is an obvious question: Why is there no Transfiguration narrative in Saint John’s Gospel?
But then, there is no Eucharistic institution narrative in the Fourth Gospel either.
Perhaps we could say that the Fourth Gospel is shot through with the Transfiguration and the light of the Transfiguration, from beginning to end, just as it is shot through with Eucharistic narratives from beginning to end.
But should we describe the Transfiguration as a miracle? If we do, then it is the only Gospel miracle that happens to Christ himself. On the other hand, Thomas Aquinas spoke of the Transfiguration as ‘the greatest miracle,’ because it complemented baptism and showed the perfection of life in Heaven.
None of the accounts identifies the ‘high mountain’ by name. The earliest identification of the mountain as Mount Tabor was made by Saint Jerome in the late fourth century.
But does it matter where the location is? Consider the place of Mountains in the salvation story and in revelation:
● Moses meets God in the cloud and the burning bush on Mount Sinai, and there receives the tablets of the Covenant (Exodus 25 to 31);
● Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (I Kings 18);
● Elijah climbs Mount Sinai and finds God not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire, but in the still small voice in the cleft of the Mountain (I Kings 19: 12);
● The Sermon, which is the ‘manifesto’ of the new covenant, is the Sermon on the Mount;
● The Mount of Olives is a key location in the Passion narrative;
● Christ is crucified on Mount Calvary;
● Saint John receives his Revelation in the cave at the top of the mountain on Patmos.
As for the cloud, as three Synoptic Gospels describe the cloud’s descent in terms of overshadowing (επισκιαζειν, episkiazein), which in the Greek is a pun on the word tents (σκηνάς skenas), but is also the same word used to describe the Holy Spirit overshadowing the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation (Luke 1: 35).
In the Old Testament, the pillar of cloud leads the people through the wilderness by day, just as the pillar of fire leads them by night. Moses entered the cloud on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24: 18), the Shekinah cloud is the localised manifestation of the presence of God (Exodus 19: 9; 33: 9; 34: 5; 40: 34; II Maccabees 2: 8).
The cloud takes Christ up into heaven at the Ascension (Acts 1: 9-10).
Saint Paul talks about the living and the dead being caught up in the cloud to meet the Lord (I Thessalonians 4: 17).
The principle characters:
Christ is the focus of the Transfiguration, but who are the other principle characters in this story?
1, The Trinity: In Orthodox theology, the Transfiguration is not only a feast in honour of Christ, but a feast of the Holy Trinity, for all three Persons of the Trinity are present at that moment:
● God the Father speaks from heaven: ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him’ (Luke 9: 35).
● God the Son is transfigured;
● God the Holy Spirit is present in the form of a cloud.
In this sense, the Transfiguration is also considered the ‘Small Epiphany’ – the ‘Great Epiphany’ being the Baptism of Christ, when the Holy Trinity appears in a similar pattern.
The Transfiguration (Kirillo-Belozersk), anonymous, ca 1497 … the Transfiguration is also considered the ‘Small Epiphany’
2, Moses and Elijah: At the Transfiguration, Christ appears with Moses and Elijah, the two pre-eminent figures of Judaism, standing alongside him. Saint John Chrysostom explains their presence in three ways:
● They represent the Law and the Prophets – Moses received the Law from God, and Elijah was a great prophet.
● They both experienced visions of God – Moses on Mount Sinai and Elijah on Mount Carmel.
● They represent the living and the dead – Elijah, the living, because he was taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire, and Moses, the dead, because he did experience death.
Moses and Elijah show that the Law and the Prophets point to the coming of Christ, and their recognition of and conversation with Christ symbolise how he fulfils ‘the law and the prophets’ (Matthew 5: 17-19; cf Luke 16: 16). Moses and Elijah also stand for the living and dead, for Moses died and his burial place is known, while Elijah was taken alive into heaven in order to appear again to announce the time of God’s salvation.
It was commonly believed that Elijah would reappear before the coming of the Messiah (see Malachi 4), and the three interpret Christ’s response as a reference to John the Baptist (Matthew 17: 13).
3, The Disciples: Peter, James and John were with Christ on the mountain top.
Why these three disciples?
Do you remember how this might relate to Moses and Elijah? Moses ascended the mountain with three trusted companions, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, to confirm the covenant (Exodus 24: 1), and God’s glory covered the mountain in a cloud for six days (Exodus 25 to 31).
In some ways, Peter, James and John serve as an inner circle or a ‘kitchen cabinet’ in the Gospels.
They are at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17: 1, Mark 9: 2; Luke 9: 28), but also at the raising of the daughter of Jairus (Mark 9: 2; Luke 6: 51), at the top of the Mount of Olives when Christ is about to enter Jerusalem (Mark 13: 3), they help to prepare for the Passover (Luke 22: 8), and they are in Gethsemane (Matthew 26: 37).
They are the only disciples to have been given nickname by Jesus: Simon became the Rock, James and John were the sons of thunder (Luke 5: 10). Jerome likes to refer to Peter as the rock on which the Church is built, James as the first of the apostles to die a martyr’s death, John as the beloved disciple.
They are a trusted group who also serve to represent us at each moment in the story of salvation.
In today’s worldly ways, in our culture today, we may find it difficult to come to terms culturally with apocalyptic visions, and think they are only for people who have their heads in the clouds. But the Old Testament reading (Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14) and the Gospel story (Luke 9: 28-36) offer two visions that pull us in different directions.
The Prophet Daniel is caught up in an experience that is very much in the present, but that looks back to the past, and yet is full of promise for the future.
In his present predicament, Daniel has a vision of the Ancient One, the Ancient of Days (Ο Παλαιός των Ημερών). Most of the Eastern Church Fathers who comment on this passage interpret this figure as a revelation of the Son before his Incarnation.
Eastern Christian art sometimes portrays Christ as an old man, the Ancient of Days, to show symbolically that he existed from all eternity, that Christ is pre-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
In experiencing the Divine presence in the present, Daniel looks back to the past with the title the Ancient One or the Ancient of Days (verse 9). But he also looks forward to the future, when Christ is given dominion that is everlasting, that shall not pass away, that shall never be destroyed (verse 14).
In a similar way, the Transfiguration is a moment that brings the experience of the past and the promise of the future together in the moment of the present.
I saw this recently in two icons of the Transfiguration in two different places.
I was visiting a new church built in a village in the mountains above the tourist resorts in Crete. There I was shown an icon of the Transfiguration presented to that Church in 2007, shortly after it opened 12 years ago.
A few weeks earlier, I was invited to open a summer exhibition in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, of icons by Adrienne Lord. The poster for this exhibition, and one of the principal exhibits, was an icon of the Transfiguration.
In both icons, we see on the left, Christ leading the three disciples, Peter, James and John, up the mountain; in the centre, we see these three disciples stumbling and falling as they witness and experience the Transfiguration; and then, to the right, Christ is depicted leading these three back down the side of the mountain.
In other words, we are invited to see the Transfiguration not as a static moment but as a dynamic event. It is a living event in which we are invited to move from all in the past that weighs us down, to experience the full life that Christ offers us today, and to bring this into how we live our lives as Disciples in the future, a future that begins here and now.
The Transfiguration is both an event and a process. The original Greek word for Transfiguration in the Gospels is μεταμόρφωσις (metamorphosis), which means ‘to progress from one state of being to another.’ Consider the metamorphosis of the chrysalis into the butterfly. Saint Paul uses the same word (μεταμόρφωσις) when he describes how the Christian is to be transfigured, transformed, into the image of Christ (II Corinthians 3: 18).
This metamorphosis invites us into the event of becoming what we have been created to be. This is what Orthodox writers call deification. Transfiguration is a profound change, by God, in Christ, through the Spirit. And so, the Transfiguration reveals to us our ultimate destiny as Christians, the ultimate destiny of all people and all creation – to be transformed and glorified by the majestic splendour of God himself.
The Transfiguration points to Christ’s great and glorious Second Coming and the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God, when all of creation shall be transfigured and filled with light.
According to Saint Gregory Palamas, the light of the Transfiguration ‘is not something that comes to be and then vanishes.’ It not only prefigures the eternal blessedness that all Christians look forward to, but also the Kingdom of God already revealed, realised and come.
In a lecture in Cambridge some years ago , Metropolitan Kallistos [Ware], the pre-eminent Orthodox theologian in England, spoke of the Transfiguration as a disclosure not only of what God is but of what we are. The Transfiguration looks back to the beginning, but also looks forward to the end, to the final glory of Christ’s second coming, because through the incarnation Christ raises our human nature to a new level, opens new possibilities.
The Incarnation is a new beginning for the human race, and in the Transfiguration we see not only our human nature at the beginning, but as it can be in and through Christ at the end, he told us.
But with the Transfiguration comes the invitation to bear the cross with Christ. Peter, James and John are with Christ on Mount Tabor, and they are with him in Gethsemane. We must understand the Passion of Christ and the Transfiguration in the light of each other, not as two separate mysteries, but aspects of the one single mystery. Mount Tabor and Mount Calvary go together; and glory and suffering go together.
If we are to become part of the Transfiguration, we cannot leave our cross behind. If we are to bring the secular, fallen world into the glory of Christ, that has to be through self-emptying (κένωσις, kenosis), cross-bearing and suffering. There is no answer to secularism that does not take account of the Cross, as well as taking account of the Transfiguration and the Resurrection.
The Transfiguration provides a guideline for confronting the secular world, he said. And Metropolitan Kalistos reminded us of the story from Leo Tolstoy, Three Questions. The central figure is set a task of answering three questions:
What is the most important time?
The most important time is now, the past is gone, and the future does not exist yet.
Who is the most important person?
The person who is with you at this very instant.
What is the most important task?
‘This task is, to do him good, because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life!’
The light that shone from Christ on the mountaintop is not a physical and created light, but an eternal and uncreated light, a divine light, the light of the Godhead, the light of the Holy Trinity.
The experience on Mount Tabor confirms Saint Peter’s confession of faith which reveals Christ as the Son of the Living God. Yet Christ remains fully human as ever he was, as fully human as you or me, and his humanity is not abolished. But the Godhead shines through his body and from it.
In Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead. But at other points in his life, the glory is hidden beneath the veil of his flesh. What we see in Christ on Mount Tabor is human nature, our human nature, taken up into God and filled with the light of God. ‘So, this should be our attitude to the secular world,’ Metropolitan Kallistos said.
Or, as the Revd Dr Kenneth Leech (1939-2015) once said: ‘Transfiguration can and does occur “just around the corner,” occurs in the midst of perplexity, imperfection, and disastrous misunderstanding.’
Metropolitan Kallistos spoke that day of the Transfiguration as a disclosure not only of what God is but of what we are. The Transfiguration looks back to the beginning, but also looks forward to the end, opening new possibilities.
The Transfiguration shows us what we can be in and through Christ, he told us.
In secular life, there is a temptation to accept our human nature as it is now. But the Transfiguration of Christ offers the opportunity to look at ourselves not only as we are now, but take stock of what happened in the past that made us so, and to grasp the promise of what we can be in the future.
The Transfiguration is not just an Epiphany or a Theophany moment for Christ, with Peter, James and John as onlookers. The Transfiguration reminds us of how God sees us in God’s own image and likeness, sees us for who we were, who we are and who we are going to be, no matter how others see us, no matter how others dismiss us.
The Transfiguration is a challenge to remember always that we are made in the image and likeness of God. And, no matter what others say about you, how others judge you, how others gossip or talk about you, how others treat you, God sees your potential, God sees in you God’s own image and likeness, God knows you are beautiful inside and loves you, loves you for ever, as though you are God’s only child. You are his beloved child in whom he is well pleased.
Luke 9: 28-36
28 Ἐγένετο δὲ μετὰ τοὺς λόγους τούτους ὡσεὶ ἡμέραι ὀκτὼ [καὶ] παραλαβὼν Πέτρον καὶ Ἰωάννην καὶ Ἰάκωβον ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος προσεύξασθαι. 29 καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ προσεύχεσθαι αὐτὸν τὸ εἶδος τοῦ προσώπου αὐτοῦ ἕτερον καὶ ὁ ἱματισμὸς αὐτοῦ λευκὸς ἐξαστράπτων. 30 καὶ ἰδοὺ ἄνδρες δύο συνελάλουν αὐτῷ, οἵτινες ἦσαν Μωϋσῆς καὶ Ἠλίας,
31 οἳ ὀφθέντες ἐν δόξῃ ἔλεγον τὴν ἔξοδον αὐτοῦ, ἣν ἤμελλεν πληροῦν ἐν Ἰερουσαλήμ.
32 ὁ δὲ Πέτρος καὶ οἱ σὺν αὐτῷ ἦσαν βεβαρημένοι ὕπνῳ: διαγρηγορήσαντες δὲ εἶδον τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ καὶ τοὺς δύο ἄνδρας τοὺς συνεστῶτας αὐτῷ. 33 καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ διαχωρίζεσθαι αὐτοὺς ἀπ' αὐτοῦ εἶπεν ὁ Πέτρος πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν, Ἐπιστάτα, καλόν ἐστιν ἡμᾶς ὧδε εἶναι, καὶ ποιήσωμεν σκηνὰς τρεῖς, μίαν σοὶ καὶ μίαν Μωϋσεῖ καὶ μίαν Ἠλίᾳ, μὴ εἰδὼς ὃ λέγει. 34 ταῦτα δὲ αὐτοῦ λέγοντος ἐγένετο νεφέλη καὶ ἐπεσκίαζεν αὐτούς: ἐφοβήθησαν δὲ ἐν τῷ εἰσελθεῖν αὐτοὺς εἰς τὴν νεφέλην. 35 καὶ φωνὴ ἐγένετο ἐκ τῆς νεφέλης λέγουσα, Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἐκλελεγμένος, αὐτοῦ ἀκούετε.
36 καὶ ἐν τῷ γενέσθαι τὴν φωνὴν εὑρέθη Ἰησοῦς μόνος. καὶ αὐτοὶ ἐσίγησαν καὶ οὐδενὶ ἀπήγγειλαν ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις οὐδὲν ὧν ἑώρακαν.
28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.
31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’ – not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’
36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
Liturgical colour: White.
Your unfailing kindness, O Lord, is in the heavens,
and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Your righteousness in like the strong mountains,
and your justice as the great deep.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
For with you is the well of life,
and in your light shall we see light.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Father in heaven,
whose Son Jesus Christ was wonderfully transfigured
before chosen witnesses upon the holy mountain,
and spoke of the exodus he would accomplish at Jerusalem:
Give us strength so to hear his voice and bear our cross in this world,
that in the world to come we may see him as he is;
where he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Introduction to the Peace:
Christ will transfigure your human body,
and give it a form like that of his own glorious body.
We are the Body of Christ. We share his peace.
(Philippians 3: 21, I Corinthians 11: 27; Romans 5: 1)
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
whose divine glory shone forth upon the holy mountain
before chosen witnesses of his majesty;
when your own voice from heaven
proclaimed him your beloved Son:
Post Communion Prayer:
we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
May we who are partakers at his table
reflect his life in word and deed,
that all the world may know his power to change and save.
This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The God of all grace,
Who called you to his eternal glory in Christ Jesus,
establish, strengthen and settle you in the faith:
The Transfiguration, a Romanian copy of an icon in Stavronikita Monastery in Mount Athos
Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14
6, Immortal, invisible, God only wise
125, Hail to the Lord’s anointed
468, How shall I sing that majesty
130, Jesus came, the heavens adoring
132, Lo! he comes; with clouds descending
34, O worship the King, all-glorious above
196, O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness 678, Ten thousand times ten thousand
73, The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended
323, The God of Abraham praise
34, O worship the King all–glorious above
281, Rejoice, the Lord is King!
8, The Lord is King! Lift up your voice
II Peter 1: 16-19:
501, Christ is the world’s true light
52, Christ, whose glory fills the skies
613, Eternal light, shine in my heart
654, Light of the lonely pilgrim’s heart
Luke 9: 28-36:
325, Be still, for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One is he
643, Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
501, Christ is the world’s true light
205, Christ upon the mountain peak
52, Christ, whose glory fills the skies
331 God reveals his presence
209 Here in this holy time and place
101, Jesus, the very thought of thee
195, Lord, the light of your love is shining
102, Name of all majesty
60, O Jesus, Lord of heavenly race
449, Thee we adore, O hidden Saviour, thee
112, There is a Redeemer
374, When all thy mercies, O my God
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.
The hymn suggestions are provided in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling. The hymn numbers refer to the Church of Ireland’s Church Hymnal (5th edition, Oxford: OUP, 2000)