Will you preach the Transfiguration or this rotting flesh? Homily for the Feast of the Transfiguration, 2017
By: Fr. Joe Fessenden August 9, 2017
Setting the stage
I would like you to put yourself into this story for just a moment. You are there watching (I don’t know – maybe you’re a lizard – or a cat – they’re all over in the Holy Land!) as Jesus sets out with Peter, James, and John to climb the Mount of the Transfiguration, according to tradition, Mount Tabor. They come to the top, and it is nighttime (that’s implied from a few parts, but I don’t want to take too much time on that fact – just realize that that brightness they saw must have been even more spectacular in the dark of the night).
They come to the top of the mountain, and Jesus takes a few steps away from the three and two more figures appear before him.
Ok – let’s talk a few details here that warrant reflection.
First: Jesus was standing
I know the picture on the front of the bulletin has Jesus floating in the air. You will see that after Mass – I know no one got a bulletin already to be reading it during my homily. Far be it from me to contradict Raphael (the artist, not the turtle), but the language (and several of the Fathers) indicate that Jesus was standing. (Lapide references Mark, but Luke seems to be the one who says something about “standing”.)
I think this fact is actually rather important. The transfiguration is not alien to us. Jesus is not up in the clouds. It is not the end, it is a hint of what is to come. Jesus’ feet are on the ground just as ours must be as long as we are part of the Church Militant, that is, as long as we are alive on earth.Just like it was for the apostles – this took place just before the passion – It is for us so that we might be able to keep going, so that we might see the end and know that there is a reward coming. There’s something more than this life.
Don’t get me wrong. This life is not unimportant. It is our only chance to make the decisions that will have eternal ramifications. However, this life is not the most important thing. While we are on earth, we must keep our feet on the ground. We must look to eternal life while forming this world into what God meant it to be from the beginning.
Second: Peter wanted to stand still
Peter didn’t know what to say. He wanted to build tents – tabernacles – and to stay on the top of the mountain. Two lessons can come from this.
First, we can never stop and stay in those experiences, the experiences that you may hear called “mountaintop experiences.” These experiences always point to the future. We can never just say, “I made it. This is faith. This is religion. This is my relationship with God. I’m there.” We must always be growing in our faith. Faith can never be stagnant – no relationship can. It is either alive and growing, or it is withering and dying. Those are the only two options.
By the same token, just like Peter wanted to build tents (tabernacles) and stay, we cannot make our entire faith sitting here with our tabernacle. Yes, our tabernacle contains the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, but the whole reason he has come to us in this form, in the form of food, is to give us strength for the journey on earth. There are those whose lives are meant to be devoted to time with him in the tabernacle – that’s what cloistered religious orders do – but even they are charged to pray for the world. But each of us has our role in the world, in the Church:
Cloistered religious pray for the world.
Active religious (like our own Nashville Dominicans) work in the trenches as the extension of the Church into the world.
Clergy (like Fr. Nick and I) give to the laity the tools they need – through teaching, guidance, and the sacramental life – to fulfill their role in the world.
So then, the laity, you. What’s your role in the world? You are not passive bystanders. You are the ones who have the (rather intimidating) job of making the world into what God meant it to be when he created it, before the fall, before we messed it up. You have the job of bringing the Gospel into the streets in your lives. You have the job of bringing the Gospel to the water coolers and coffee makers in offices.
Prayer is the Transfiguration of the Soul
We have the chance for our own transfiguration. We have the opportunity to get, for ourselves, the strength that the apostles, and perhaps even the humanity of Jesus, found in the Transfiguration. It is in prayer – private prayer, lectio divina immersing ourselves in the Word of God, and public liturgical prayer and sacraments – that we transfigure our souls. When we pray, we elevate our souls to things of heaven.
It is prayer in all those forms that allows us to meet our calling – whatever it may be. Left to our own devices, we will surely fall short. But, with God’s help, we can transform not only ourselves, but the world.
Transfiguration was a foretaste Resurrection of the Body, not heaven.
Finally, let’s talk end times for a moment. What do we have to look forward to? We often think of ourselves as looking forward to being disembodied souls in heaven. But that is not our end. There will come a time that each of us will have our bodies and souls reunited. That’s what we will profess to believe in just a few minutes at the tail end of the Nicene Creed (when we may have gone on auto-pilot): I believe…in the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.
But our body at the resurrection will not be the body that we have now that eventually withers. Instead, it will be like the body that Jesus showed at the Transfiguration. It will be like his glorified body after the resurrection.
God will lay down a new creation, a new heaven and a new earth. At that point, our bodies will be transfigured. And we will spend eternity either at peace with our creator in the new creation or separate from him.
When we are here at Mass, we see the most beautiful Transfiguration when we see, with the eyes of faith, bread and wine become the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. But then we have to leave this sanctuary and enter the mission fields. When we leave this Church, we will all be preaching something out there in the world. What will we be preaching? The Transfiguration or this rotting flesh?