The Rev. Peter Faass, Rector
We conclude the Epiphany season today with the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus before his inner circle of disciples: Peter, James and John. This epiphany – or revelation of something that had not been know before - is the final one of Jesus’ earthly ministry, concluding a series of epiphanies beginning with his revelation as the Messiah to the three Wise Men, his Baptism by John in the River Jordan, and his turning of water into wine at the Wedding Feast at Cana.
The Transfiguration is significantly different from those other epiphanies because in addition to revealing Jesus being the Messiah, it also reveals what will occur in his death and Resurrection.
The literal interpretation of transfiguration is metamorphosis; a change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one, by natural or supernatural means. An alternate definition of metamorphosis relates to insects and amphibians whereby they are transformed from an immature form to an adult form in two or more distinct stages. Two examples of that are frogs and butterflies.
Frog eggs hatch as aquatic tadpoles, and eventually transfigure into semi-aquatic frogs. Similarly, we see the transfiguration of caterpillars as they enter into their cocoons and emerge as butterflies. If you have never seen a transfigured butterfly emerge from its cocoon, visit the Costa Rican rainforest glasshouse at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens, which has an incubator case for cocoons, and does regular releases of newly transfigured butterflies into the rainforest biome. It’s a glorious sight to behold!
The transfiguration of a caterpillar into a butterfly, from one entity into another, is why the butterfly has become a powerful symbol of the Resurrection, symbolizing Jesus’ death, being placed into the tomb, then emerging as the resurrected Christ. Frankly, I’m glad that the early Christians choose the butterfly to represent this mighty act of God, and not the frog. I just can’t imagine dozens of colorful paper frogs being hung over our heads in the nave for Easter!
Human beings do not undergo metamorphosis, at least not in the literal, physical sense . . . well, unless you have the mind of Franz Kafka, who wrote a novella called “The Metamorphosis;” a story of a man waking up one morning to find he has been transfigured into a giant insect. But that’s an allegory and not a train of thought I want to follow for this homily.
But, we humans can be transfigured spiritually. We can go from leading one way of life to another. In fact, the season of Lent, which begins this Ash Wednesday, is a season that is laser focused on our spiritual metamorphosis and transfiguration.
Let me read you the “Invitation to the Observance of a Holy Lent” that we will use during our Ash Wednesday liturgies.
Dear People of God,
The Holy Scriptures tell us of God’s loving purpose in creation: to raise up a holy people worthy of eternal life. Because we have fallen far away from that purpose, God has worked patiently to draw us back sending prophets and teachers to warn and to guide us and coming at last into this world in Jesus and sharing our human life and death so that we might know the full extent and power of God’s love and forgiveness. In the waters of Baptism and by the power of the Holy Spirit, God has called men and women of every time and place into the Church, the Body of Christ, to offer worship and praise, to bear witness to God’s love, and to work with God for the healing of the nations.
Yet, we continue to fall short of the holiness for which we were made and to turn aside to our own purposes, weakening our witness and failing to fulfill the ministries to which we are called. We stand in constant need of the forgiveness that Jesus proclaimed and which he commissioned the disciples to offer.
Therefore from very early times, the Church has set aside the season of Lent as a time when God’s people are called to repent their sins and to renew the promises made at their baptism. It is a time when we were called to examine our way of life, to put aside all luxuries and self-indulgence, and to live a life of greater discipline, centered again on our Baptismal covenant of faith and witness and our commitment to seek justice and peace for all people.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self -examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. ”
Hear these phrases:
“to raise up a holy people worthy of eternal life.”
“Because we have fallen far away from that purpose, God has worked patiently to draw us back.”
“[We are] called to repent [of our] sins and to renew the promises [we] made [at our] baptism.”
“[We are] called to examine our way of life, to put aside all luxuries and self-indulgence, and to live a life of greater discipline.”
These phrases are all ones calling us to transfiguration, to a metamorphosis of life, transfiguring us from living in ways antithetical to what God desires, to a way of life that is in alignment with what God desires.
What spiritual disciplines will you engage in this Lent so that you may be transfigured into the person God desires you to be?
It is traditional for many folks to give things up during Lent; to put aside some of those luxuries and self-indulgent items that we enjoy, engaging in self-discipline from our desires, and even addictions, for things like meat, alcohol, caffeine, deserts and chocolate. This is all well and fine, but too often I get the sense that this is really a diet, and not a spiritual discipline that will draw us back to God. How might we re-purpose this giving up of things as a vehicle to not just lose weight, but by their absence, making room for God in our hearts, minds, and even our bellies?
Other folks commit to a renewed program of exercise, so that they may be physically healthier. (Which – if successful - is about as close to a physical metamorphosis we will achieve as humans.) This too is well and fine, but again I often sense that this Lenten discipline is a do-over of our failed New Year’s resolution to lose weight and be more toned. How might we make this discipline a way to truly transfigure ourselves so we may have a closer relationship with God? Maybe meditating on a passage of scripture as we walk the treadmill? If we do, maybe, just maybe, by meditating on God’s word, this would have a longer lasting impact than our failed New Year’s resolution.
I encourage you this Lent to take to heart what the “Invitation to the Observance of a Holy Lent” requires; engaging in “self -examination and repentance; . . . prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” And, equally as important, renewing our Baptismal “commitment to seek justice and peace for all people.”
What will you engage in this Lent to achieve your own transfiguration?
At Jesus’ Transfiguration, God’s voice comes from the cloud and tells the disciple, ““This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” This is the most critical transfiguring discipline of all; listening to and following Jesus. It is by listening to Jesus and emulating his life, that we achieve our fullest and greatest metamorphosis. In practicing his ways of kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and radical love, we are authentically transfigured. And trust me, when that happens, you will feel it, you will know it, and people will see it in you. When we listen to his voice and walk in his ways our faces shine like the sun, reflecting the glory of God and our transfigured life in Christ. And that is the most wondrous metamorphosis of all!
Have a blessed Lent.
The Reverend Peter Faass
The Reverend Peter Faass was born in Delft, Netherlands. He is a graduate of the General Theological Seminary in New York City and has been at Christ Church since 2006.