The LORD said to Abram: “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you. “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.” Abram went as the LORD directed him.
1) Upright is the word of the Lord, and all his works are trustworthy.
He loves justice and right; of the kindness of the Lord the earth is full. (Refrain:)
2) See, the eyes of the Lord are upon those who fear him, upon those who hope for his kindness,
To deliver them from death and preserve them in spite of famine. (Refrain:)
3) Our soul waits for the Lord, who is our help and our shield.
May your kindness, O Lord, be upon us who have put our hope in you. (Refrain:)
Beloved: Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone. As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
(Copyright 1970, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2001 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
Copyright 1970, 1997, 1998 Contraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
The English translation of some Psalm responses, some Alleluia and Gospel verses and the Lenten Gospel Acclamations, some Summaries, and the Titles and Conclusion of the Readings, from the Lectionary for Mass copyright 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc., Washington D.C. All rights reserved.
The poetic English translation of the sequences of the Roman Missal are taken from the Roman Missal approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, copyright 1964 by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission of ICEL.)
Back when I was in high school, the “new” thing for recording and playing music (other than records, of course, which could only play music) was the reel-to-reel player. I remember receiving a gift from my parents of a recording of a relatively new Broadway play called Oliver. There was a song in it which might be appropriate for consideration with today’s gospel passage.
But first, let me set the background for this song. The book, lyrics and music for Oliver were written and composed by Lionel Bart, who lived in East London and was a descendant of Jews who had escaped the persecution of the Jews in the Ukraine. It was based on Charles Dickens’ book Oliver Twist, which called the public's attention to various contemporary evils of the mid-nineteenth century including child labor, the recruitment of children as criminals, and the presence of street children. So the use of this song in this context may not be perfect but I think it works.
Given this background, I need you to imagine the Transfiguration events as being part of a musical. Now I need you to imagine that Jesus, Moses and Elijah are appearing to the disciples as noted in this gospel text. Remember how in some of those old movies (perhaps I’m remembering Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with Matthew Broderick, but I would have to watch the movie to confirm this) where there is a freeze-frame in the action for all of the characters except one who turns directly into the camera and analyzes what is happening behind him?
Okay, so in this case, let us imagine Peter breaking away from the group and, looking directly at the camera, sings:
- Who will buy this wonderful morning?
Such a sky you never did see!
Who will tie it up with a ribbon
And put it in a box for me?
So I could see it at my leisure
Whenever things go wrong
And I would keep it as my treasure
To last my whole life long.
Who will buy this wonderful feeling?
I'm so high I swear I could fly!
Me oh my, I don't want to lose it.
So what am I to do
To keep this sky so blue!
There must be someone who will buy.
There'll never be a day so sunny,
It could not happen twice.
Where is the man with all the money?
It's cheap at half the price!
Who will buy this wonderful feeling?
I'm so high I swear I could fly.
Me, oh my! I don't want to lose it
So what am I to do
To keep the sky so blue?
There must be someone who will buy. (1)
Well, of course, Peter wasn’t asking anyone to buy his experience, but he did most certainly want someone to bottle it up and save it “so he could see it at his leisure whenever things went wrong” as the song says.
Haven’t we all had experiences like that (I could only hope so, of course)? I remember back when I was in the Jesuit seminary, we were granted five afternoons a year when our families could come to the novitiate and visit with us. I’ll never forget one of them when I was able to invite some of my new-found seminarian friends to come and meet my family. We had such a great time, laughing and getting to know one another that I specifically remember wishing I could do the very thing the song is talking about: wrapping up the memory in an envelope so I could open it up on one of my “down” days and remember those good feelings.
We all know that events like these are not the norm of human experience. The children portrayed in Oliver lived a most wretched life and yet they were able to appreciate some of the most common experiences of their lives like a wonderful morning, a sunny day or a blue sky. Likewise, most of our lives are spent in the valleys eeking out a daily living like those street urchins. But if we are able to follow the teachings that our Lord has given us and appreciate the blessings that God has given us in this life, we can be assured that these feelings will be the norm of our existence in the next life.
1. From Oliver. Music and lyrics by Lionel Bart. You can watch a video of the song by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra here.)
(Copyright 2017 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Before we consider today's gospel passage, it might be helpful to review some of Matthew's text which leads up to it. At the beginning of chapter 16, our Lord delivers a stinging rebuke of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. In the middle of it, he looks at his disciples and exclaims "How weak is your faith!" (Mt. 16:8). After that incident comes Peter's profession of faith that Christ is the Messiah. Then, when our Lord begins to tell his followers about his coming passion, death and resurrection, he winds up rebuking Peter for saying in essence "Perish the thought!".
With this background, our Lord now leads the same three disciples whom he will take with him to the Garden of Gethsemane up Mount Hermon. Why did he do this? Well, if we take an overview of this text, we will see some significant resemblances between what happened here and what happened when our Lord was baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist. The baptism occurred just as Jesus was beginning his public ministry and he was seeking the approval of his Father for what he was about to do. And just as occurred here, the Father's voice came out of a cloud to extend his blessing on what his Son was about to do.
Now here it is some two years later and our Lord is about to begin his final journey to Jerusalem where he will suffer his passion and death. Once again he seeks the Father's approval for what he is about to undergo. And, as Luke tells us in his recounting of this incident, he did it in his usual manner of seeking guidance: by going off to be alone in prayer. Here, the resemblances with what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane are striking. Once again, it is Luke who tells us that our Lord went off to the Mount of Olives with Peter, James and John, "as was his custom", to pray. Only this time was different. This time he prayed to his Father that the cup be taken away "yet not my will, but yours be done". This is the clue to the deeper meaning of the Transfiguration: Jesus was seeking the approval of the Father that he was indeed doing the will of the Father by going on the Jerusalem to suffer and die. And the Father gives him a resounding "yes".
Now in all of the accounts of the Transfiguration, the evangelists mention the appearance of Moses and Elijah. Among the Jews, Moses was considered the greatest of all of the law-givers, while Elijah was considered the greatest of all of the prophets. And "it is fascinating to see in how many respects the experience of these two great servants of God matched the experience of Jesus. When Moses came down from the mountain of Sinai, he did not know that the skin of his face shone (Exo.34:29). Both Moses and Elijah had their most intimate experiences of God on a mountain top. It was up Mount Sinai that Moses went to receive the tables of the law (Exo.31:18). It was on Mount Horeb that Elijah found God, not in the wind, and not in the earthquake, but in the still small voice (1Kgs.19:9-12)." (1)
Now why did these two men appear with Jesus? Again, we turn to Luke's recounting of this incident in which he says that they spoke with Jesus about "the passage" he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem. The Greek word for passage is eksodos, from which we get the English word exodus. And for any Hebrew, this word has only one connotation: "it is the word which is always used of the departure of the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt, into the unknown way of the desert, which in the end was going to lead them to the Promised Land. The word exodus is the word which describes what we might well call the most adventurous journey in human history, a journey in which a whole people in utter trust in God went out into the unknown. That is precisely what Jesus was going to do. In utter trust in God he was going to set out on the tremendous adventure of that journey to Jerusalem, a journey beset with perils, a journey involving a cross, but a journey issuing in glory." (1)
So for Christ, the Transfiguration was significant. First of all, the greatest of all of the law-givers in Hebrew history and the greatest of the prophets affirmed his decision. But then, even more importantly, the Father himself gives his resounding approval.
The point of this episode, especially according to Luke, is the necessity of prayer and of having faith and trust enough in God to follow his will. And if you don't think that transfigurations still take place, perhaps the following story might change your mind.
- In 1980, 25-year-old Dave Carr of Bangor, Maine, started to feel one of those inner urges that defy logic and reason. He had a strong impulse to open a gathering place for the homeless or people down on their luck. "I thought of providing them with a soft drink or coffee and something to eat, along with a hug and some words of encouragement," Dave says. "Most important, I wanted them to learn about the Bible, and hopefully to accept Jesus into their hearts."
This "heavenly nudge" grew stronger over the next several years. But Dave argued against it. How could he open such a place? True, he had always lived a life of service and had helped on similar projects through the church. But he was a truck driver, not a minister or psychologist, and he had a young family to support, with nothing left over for rent on a drop-in center. The whole idea was impossible.
But Dave continued to think about it. Street people led hard lives, he knew; not only were they hungry and often cold in Maine's hard climate, they were vulnerable to threats from those stronger than they. Recently a man had been murdered in the middle of the night and thrown over the bridge into the Penobscot River. The police had not found his attackers. And without some kind of safe oasis, Dave thought, such a thing was sure to happen again.
Finally Dave drove to downtown Bangor about 10:00 PM one September evening. It wouldn't hurt to at least look at possible sites. "I need nighttime hours to think quietly, and I thought it would be easier to check out storefronts without being distracted by traffic," he says. He parked and walked through the neighborhoods, looking at abandoned buildings. Some possibilities, but nothing definite.
At 1:00 A.M. Dave was ready to call it quits. But he hadn't investigated Brewer yet, the city that lies across the Penobscot River from Bangor. He would look at a few sites there, then head home.
The street was deserted as Dave started walking up the bridge. Then a car approached from Brewer. As its headlights caught him, the car slowed. Uneasily Dave realized that there were three men inside. Despite the cool night air, their windows were rolled down. "Let's throw him over?" Dave heard one of them say. The car stopped, its doors opened, and all three jumped out and came toward him.
Horrified, Dave suddenly recalled the murder of the street person. It had been on this bridge! Had these men done it? He would be no match for them, he knew his only option was to pray that he survived the icy water. But as he looked down, he realized that the tide had gone out, and only rocks and dirt were directly below him. "God, help me," Dave murmured.
Immediately he felt a presence near him, something unseen but definitely there. A warm, safe feeling flooded him. His fear vanished, and he knew, without knowing quite how he knew, that he was not alone.
Now the men were almost upon Dave. All three were large, muscular--and leering. "Get him!", one shouted. Suddenly they stopped. "They all stared at me, then looked to the right and left of me," Dave says. "They seemed terrified. One said, 'Oh, my God!' They turned and began shoving one another to get back to the car. And when they sped away--it sounded like they tore the transmission right out--I could still hear them cursing and yelling, 'Run, run!'"
Dave stood for a moment on the deserted bridge, basking in the warmth that still surrounded him. What was it? What had the men seen? Whatever it was, it had shielded him from certain death. "Thank you, God," he whispered.
He felt exalted, so buoyant that he decided to go on to Brewer and finish his search. As he crossed the rest of the bridge, Danny, a friend of his, drove by, honked at him, and kept going, unmindful of Dave's narrow escape. Dave waved, still surrounded by peace.
A while later, Dave came across some derelicts standing on a Brewer street corner. But as he approached, they all fell back. One put his hands over his eyes. "You're shining!" he whispered. "It hurts to look!" "I can feel the Holy Spirit all around you!" said another, as he inched away.
Dave was awed. It was heaven's glow surrounding him, it had to be! But he wasn't absolutely positive until the next day, when he ran into Danny again.
"Sorry I didn't stop for you last night on the bridge," Danny said, "But I had passengers and I never could have fit all of you in my car, too."
"All of us?" Dave asked, puzzled.
"Those three huge guys walking with you," Danny explained. "They were the biggest people I had ever seen. One must have been at least seven feet tall!"
Dave never resisted a heavenly nudge again. He opened and funded a Bangor coffeehouse in 1986, which is still running today under a friend's management. At least 100 people are fed every night, with coffee, hugs--and the word of the Lord. (2)
What I found most remarkable about this story were the words of the derelicts that he encountered: "You're shining! It hurts to look!" and "I can feel the Holy Spirit all around you!". The presence of God can do that, as evidenced in the Hebrew Scriptures by Moses and in the New Testament by our Lord in the Transfiguration. And how did it come about? Because they demonstrated their faith and trust in God through prayer and followed God's will in their lives.
We all need to follow our Lord's example and spend some time in prayer on a regular basis in order to discern the will of God in our lives. And in all things, we must put our faith and trust in him, no matter what we feel may be our shortcomings. And as our Lord told his disciples after this episode was completed, if we put our faith and trust in God, then we have no reason to fear. After all, who better to trust than the one who holds all of us in the palm of his hand.
1. From the Gospel of Matthew, copyright 1975 by William Barclay. St. Andrew Press, Edinburgh, Scotland. Used with permission.
2. Invisible Guardians. From Where Wonders Prevail, copyright 1996 by Joan Wester Anderson. Random House, New York. Included in Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul, copyright 1997 by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Patty Aubery and Nancy Mitchell. Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, FL.
(Copyright 2014 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at email@example.com.)
Lord Jesus, you are the Son of God in whom the Father was well pleased. Lord, have mercy.
Christ Jesus, you came to give us a New Law and to fulfill the words of the prophets. Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you will come again in glory. Lord, have mercy.
Celebrant: Christ became one like us to reveal the love of the Father for us. Therefore, in confidence that Christ will intercede for us, we bring our needs to the Father .
Deacon/Lector: Our response is "Lord, hear our prayer".
That the leaders of the Church will help us to see beyond the trials of earthly life to the glory of the eternal life to come, we pray to the Lord.
That the leaders of the nations of the world will treat all those under their care with justice and respect, we pray to the Lord.
That God will send caring people to help all those in spiritual or physical need, we pray to the Lord.
That the Elect, their families and sponsors will come to a deeper appreciation of the meaning of the Gospel in their lives, we pray to the Lord.
That all persecuted Christians will be strong in their faith and an example to non-believers, we pray to the Lord.
That all of the faithful departed will behold the loving face of Christ in their heavenly home, we pray to the Lord.
That all of those who perished in the tornado in Tennessee will be welcomed into the loving arms of their Savior and that their families will be comforted in their grief, we pray to the Lord.
That all of those affected by natural disasters, including by the tornado in TN, will be strengthened in their efforts to rebuild their lives, we pray to the Lord.
For all of the intentions we hold in our hearts and which we now recall in silence. (Pause) For all of these intentions, we pray to the Lord.
Celebrant: Merciful Father, you glorified your Son on the mountain and glorify him forever at your right hand. Grant us the grace of your Spirit so that one day we may come to see your glory in heaven after we have successfully endured the trials of this life. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.