Here are the Propers for the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ, which appears in the Prayer Book calendar on the 6th of August, together with the homily preached at our midweek Eucharist on Wednesday, when we liturgically commemorated this feast.
Propers for the Transfiguration of Christ.
The Book of Common Prayer 1928.
O GOD, who on the mount didst reveal to chosen witnesses thine only-begotten Son wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistering; Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may be permitted to behold the King in his beauty, who with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen.
The Epistle. 2 St. Pet. i. 13.
I THINK it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me. Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance. For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,. but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.
The Gospel. St. Luke ix. 28.
AND it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance war altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease, which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him. And it came to pass, as they departed from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said. While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud. And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone. And they kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen.
A Homily for the Feast
of the Transfiguration of Christ
The Rev’d Thomas H. Harbold
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength, and our Redeemer. Amen.
“And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance war altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease, which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.”
The Feast of the Transfiguration is one of those “fixed feasts” which is attached to a specific date. For that reason, unless that date happens for all on a Sunday, or unless one is in a large enough parish to be able to support multiple weekday Eucharists, it is easy to let that feast be overlooked – and I did not want that to happen. So we are anticipating it by a few days, since it actually happens on Saturday!
We are all familiar with the story. Jesus takes three of His disciples – the so-called “inner circle” of disciples, namely Peter, James, and John – and goes up into a mountain to pray. They fall asleep, and so they miss the moment when Christ first becomes transfigured, both his human countenance, and his garments, which we are told became “white and glistering” – suffused with light. When the three disciples awake, they find Jesus already transfigured, and talking with Moses and Elijah. Peter suggests that they build three tabernacles in the wilderness, one each for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus – “not knowing what he said.”
And then, a cloud comes over them; those who have been in the mountains know how quickly that can happen, and how visibility, which may have been so good that one could see for many miles and suddenly reduce to near-zero in a matter of moments. But this was no ordinary cloud, for out of it the disciples heard the voice of God, saying, as on the occasion of His baptism by John the Baptist, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” When the cloud had passed, Jesus and His disciples were alone on the mountain, and the implication is that Jesus was no longer transfigured, but “back to normal,” as it were. And it is written that the disciples “told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen.”
There are many things we could take about, from this account; but let’s look at three in particular: first, the disciples who were with Jesus; second, the presence of Moses and Elijah; and third, the disciples’ reticent to talk about this incident, while Jesus was still alive. First, let’s talk about the disciples: as I mentioned above, they were the three members of Jesus’ inner circle: Peter, James, and John – the latter known by the cognomen “Boanerges,” or “Sons of Thunder.” One gets the impression that all three were rather brash, outspoken men, given to impulsive actions and grand gestures… such as, for example, the idea of building brush shelters or huts for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. But there was other significance to these men, as well:
St. Ambrose of Milan tells us that Peter, who was first promised the keys of the kingdom, John, to whom Jesus’ mother was entrusted, and James, who was the first to mount a bishop’s throne, ascended. If we are to understand this moment as the fulfillment of God’s promise for which Moses’ experience on Mount Sinai was the foreshadowing or prefiguring, he also had three companions. Aaron was his high priest, a role which seems to have been filled by Peter, on the Rock of whose Confession Christ founded His Church.
And these three together represented the extremes of the Apostles, and thereby symbolize Christ’s ministry to all peoples: Peter was the eldest, John was the youngest. James died first, John lived the longest. Two were martyrs – James in Jerusalem, Peter in Rome, representing both the Jews and the Gentiles; John was not martyred, but did suffer many things in his long life. He was also the guardian of Mary, Jesus’ mother, and he wrote the Gospel which stands alone as the most theological and mystical of the accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry.’
Next we have the experience on Mount Tabor itself, in which Christ is transfigured: transformed, for a brief time, in this isolated and literally elevated location, in a way which reveals something of his Divine appearance: he is revealed, clearly and unmistakably, as more than human. And he is joined there by Moses and Elijah: immediately obvious as representatives of the Law and the Prophets, both of which Christ came to fulfill.
At least one commentator has noted that Moses, who was barred from entering into the Promised Land in his earthly life, is now permitted to enter in to converse with Jesus in this time-outside-of-time and place-outside-of-place at the Transfiguration. And Elijah, too – who encountered God on Mt. Horeb (see how each of these has his own “mountaintop experience”?) sees the fulfillment of his labors in the person of Christ. And they stand as witness to this fulfillment, as God speaks out of the cloud, saying, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!” We can learn from the Law and Prophets, the Old Testament, but we listen to Jesus, who fulfilled both, and who informs our understanding of both.
As a bit of an aside, one modern commentary posits a whimsical scene: “Hey, Moses and Elijah, come here a moment,” says Jesus. “I want to introduce you to Peter, James, and John. I think you guys have a lot in common.” Moses and Elijah have been watching Jesus’ ministry from heaven, and they look suspiciously at Jesus. “Are you sure, Master? We’ve seen these guys in action. They seem to be loud, emotional, and out of control.” Jesus responds with a knowing smile and sparkle in His eye, “Yep, just like you two.”
Finally, we are told that the disciples kept this experience “close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen.” Well, for at least two reasons: first, because prior to the Resurrection, it would not have been believed by most; and this would have given the Scribes and the Pharisees even more ammunition to use against Him, and against His disciples. And second, because for those who did believe, it would have raised even more Messianic hopes, and misunderstandings: “He has spoken with Moses and Elijah! Surely he is the one who will liberate us from the Roman yoke!”
But there is a third reason, as well, which is related to the first two: although it occurred in a physical place and time, this was a spiritual event, and although the three disciples of Christ’s inner circle were given a foretaste of Christ’s glory, the disciples as a whole had not been prepared for it, having not yet received the Holy Spirit. As one commentary puts it,
“No one can say that Jesus is Lord without the Holy Spirit. The Apostles must all wait first for the Holy Spirit to come, and fill them with all the gifts needed to proclaim and testify to the Truth about Jesus Christ, so that people will believe them, because the Spirit of Truth is the one speaking through them and guiding them in all Truth.”
But we, who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, can indeed perceive the truth, and wonder, and blessing of this marvelous event, and give God thanks for it: who livest and reignest, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. Amen.