SERMON ON TRANSFIGURATION 2019
Last night at Vigil, the first Old Testament reading from Exodus began with these words: “The Lord said to Moses, 'Come up to Me on the mountain and BE there' (Exodus 24:12). In the second reading, also from Exodus, we hear Moses saying to the Lord, “Show me Thy glory.” And the Lord said to Moses, I will go before you with My glory.” In the third reading, from the 3rd Book of Kings we heard the word of the Lord that came to Elijah. The Lord said to him, “You shall go forth and stand on the mountain before the Lord. And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountain, and broke in pieces the rock before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a voice of a gentle breeze, and the Lord WAS there. And it came to pass when Elijah heard it, he covered his face with his mantle and went out and stood in front of the cave.”
These readings are wonderful and they are prophetic. They point to that future day when God would reveal Himself to His people personally, intimately, face to face. He would no longer have to hide. They would no longer have to hide. He would no longer have to restrict Himself to share only a tiny, passing fragment of His glory with them. He could reveal the fullness of the uncreated light, the fullness of His glory.
Come! Climb the mountain, He says. Let each one find his or her own Mount Tabor. Ascend, step by step, by the acquisition of the virtues, and I will reveal Myself and My glory, more and more – as much as you can bear. Once you join Me on the mountain top, you'll never want to leave, you'll want to stay here with Me forever.
St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite wrote: “On Mount Tabor St. Peter was illumined, mind and body, by the brightest rays of the divine light, and his heart was deeply moved by that sweetest and extraordinary vision of the more-than-beauty beauty of the divinity of the transfigured Jesus. Because of this, he did not want to be removed from this most delightful vision. Enthusiastically and ecstatically he said: 'Lord, it is good that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths [tabernacles] here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah'” (Matthew 17:4).
Makarios of Philadelphia, interpreting this passage in his homily on the Transfiguration, said this:
“What is more beautiful than to be with Christ? What is more desirable than His divine glory? Nothing is sweeter than that light which illumines the entire order of men and angels. Nothing is more beloved than that life of God in which we all 'live, and move, and have our being' (Acts 17:28). There is nothing sweeter than ever-living beauty; nothing more pleasant than unceasing gladness. There is nothing more desirable than eternal joy and blessedness, about which no word can suffice to explain, or thought to comprehend its sublimity and infinity. For how indeed can one speak about what is essentially an inexpressible beauty? Or how can one measure and describe what is essentially indescribable? This is the supreme object of hope and the revelry of desire.This is also the end and the zenith of all the blessings and promises and gifts of God, bestowed upon us supernaturally. It is the enjoyment of a Christ-like blessedness. It is the election of seeing, in a pure vision, the theophany of the Lord. It is the fulfillment of His revelation in a pouring-out of His light in bright, flashing rays. It is the imposition of those supernatural rays of divine light. It is participation in divine brightness... When St. Peter was made worthy to look upon this most-glorious end, he did not want – even for an instant – to be separated from it. For he had tasted the delight of the future age, and had immediately removed from his soul everything for the sake of that delight and joy which had entered into his being with that vision of the divine light of the transfigured Christ.”
Why would we want to be anywhere else other than on the mountaintop with Jesus? It is here that we begin to experience what it truly means to be a human being. To be without this divine light, and to be far away from Christ's glory is to be a creature lowly and bound to the corrupt and fallen earth which shall pass away. David prophesies about just such a condition when he says: “I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people” (Psalm 22:6). In Isaiah 41:14 God says: “Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I am the one who helps you, declares the Lord; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” But what is a true human being? Isaiah says: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!"(Isaiah 52:7). Again Isaiah says: “Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31). The true human being is the one who climbs, the one who ascends, the one who soars upward to be closer to God. Again I'll remind you of one of my favorite verses in Scripture, which we also heard last night at Vigil and this morning at the third antiphon: “Who shall ascend the mountain of the LORD? Or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not received his soul in vain, nor sworn deceitfully” (Psalm 23/24: 3-4).
If the fallen and corrupt nature of unredeemed humanity is wormlike, and the redeemed are likened to those who ascend to the mountain top or soar on the wings of eagles, I can't help but end with this little reflection. The original Greek word for this event and this feast is what? “Metamorphosis.” How did most of us learn about “metamorphosis” when we were in school? Caterpillar to butterfly right? What do I want to be? Do I want to remain a lowly, worm-like creature that crawls on its belly and is despised? Or is it my desire to become a spiritual butterfly – filled with brilliant colors and gorgeous light, soaring upward? Mostly, I just want to be near Jesus today. I want to be surrounded and filled with divine light. I want that light to transfigure me too. Amen.