The Feast of the Transfiguration
Sermon by Bishop Michael Hawkins
(The readings may be found here)
Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ
For all the benefits Thou hast given me,
For all the pains and insults Thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly,
Day by day. Amen.
August the sixth is a day on which we ought to consider two great visions of the end. It was on this day in 1945 that the first atomic bomb was used in warfare killing some 80,000 people immediately and another 60,000 in the next five months. The mushroom cloud of an atomic bomb is one vision of the end of humanity and the end of the world. But this day commemorates another event, and presents us with another vision of the end of humanity and of the world; Jesus blazing in glory.
The contrast of these two visions is only made bolder by the fact that both are symbolized by a cloud. There is the dark mushroom cloud of atomic destruction and there is this bright cloud of revelation and glory. And note one cloud comes from below, it is our work, our crowning achievement as human beings, our tower of Babel, the ability to blow ourselves and the world to smithereens, and the other cloud comes from above, it comes from the Father… a cloud of light, of mystery and revelation at the same time.
On August the sixth 1945, we saw what could be, and thankfully after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August the ninth, humanity has been spared the use of the atomic bomb in battle. And on this day and on the mount of Transfiguration we also see what could be. One is a vision of death and destruction for all, the other of life and hope for all.
Our attempts at defining the experience of the Transfiguration, of getting precise about what happened to Jesus and to the three apostles will lead us nowhere. But the meaning of this event, in their lives and ours, is a most fruitful road to pursue. Peter, James and John saw Jesus that day, but in a new way, they knew him as never before. They saw him for who he really was and it was a vision full of light and glory. They recognized how the Law and the Prophets, Moses and Elijah all had pointed to Jesus, and they realized that Jesus was not just another spokesperson for God, but in fact and being God’s Son.
This is our end, simply put to see Jesus. In Revelation we are told of the life of heaven, And they shall see his face (Rev. 22.4) and St. Paul says that while here we see but dimly, our end is that full and intimate knowledge of Jesus, Now we see in a glass darkly; but then face to face. So the psalmist expresses this hope which he will never give up, One thing have I desired of the Lord which I will require…to behold the fair beauty of the Lord all the days of my life. St. John tells us that this is our end as the children of God. 1 John 3.2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
It is that knowledge which is our eternal life, for, this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent (John 17.3).
And as John tells us that vision of Jesus changes us, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. When we see Jesus perfectly as he is, we become ourselves perfectly who we are. As we know him the Son of God, we become the children of God. As we know him the express image of the person of God, we ourselves are remade in the same image.
To know Jesus changes us. In fact the very word used in the New Testament is transfigured, Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transfigured by the renewing of your mind. We celebrate today then Jesus’ transfiguration and ours, our vision of his glory, and the glory of our vision of him.