The new heavens and the new earth are not replacements for the old ones; they are transfigurations of them. The redeemed order is not the created order forsaken; it is the created order—all of it—raised and glorified. Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace Judgment: Paradox, Outrage and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus
My wife and I are very fortunate in that we live by the river. Every day, as I leave the house I see it. We live on a bend in the river, and we see the gentle flow of the water, and often there are pelicans on the river and flocks of cockatoos.
Quite often, I get surprised that I live in such a lovely spot. I seem to forget after a night’s sleep. So I might step out of the house, and I am once more surprised and amazed by the river’s beauty.
Sometimes, I it moves me so much that I am transfixed. I have to stand still and gaze, or walk over the road so I can be closer to the river. Being transfixed is not the same as being to transformed, even transfigured; but I think it may be the first step.
Beauty can do that to you.
On other days, I just leave the house, get in my car and drive without a second glance. What makes the difference? Is there something different about the river—perhaps the light plays on it in a way that catches my attention? Or is there something different about me on the days I pause, maybe I’m in a mood to be amazed?
Or possibly it may be both the river and me? Perhaps sometimes it is.
When Jesus takes the disciples up the mountain, they see a vision of him transfigured and they are afraid. At least that’s what happened there and then. But I wonder what happens deeper in someone’s heart and soul when this happens? I wonder if the disciples were now taking baby steps on the road to their own transfiguration?
Because that’s what the Transfiguration is ultimately all about: the disciples being transfigured. ‘Transfiguration’ is about our transformation into the people God made us to be. Our transfiguration into being God’s children, bearing the image of Jesus Christ.
1 John 3.2‒3 assures us of this:
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
‘When he is revealed, we will be like him.’ I want to suggest that there are things that reveal Christ to us here and now. Sometimes these are things of beauty.
I can be transfixed by something I do every day—seeing the river. That’s a very pale echo of what the disciples saw. But now that the eternal Word of God has become flesh, we see that God uses earthly things to transfigure us. We see that ordinary things may have the power of transfiguration within them.
Some of those ordinary, earthly things are God-appointed. One of these God-appointed things is the bread and wine that we bring forward for our Eucharistic meal, our thanksgiving banquet. Every Eucharist, every Communion Sunday, we bring bread and wine with our offering of money and—let’s not forget!—our offering of ourselves as a living sacrifice to God.
This is ordinary bread and (for us) ordinary grape juice. There is no section in the supermarket labelled Bread and Wine for Communion purposes only. Not for ordinary use.
This is ordinary bread and wine. It is the work of farmers, millers, fruit pickers, truck drivers, shop assistants, a whole chain of people. We need them all. We depend on them to do their part so we can bring the ‘Communion elements’ to the Table. We don’t know who they are, we’ll never meet most of them. They may not even be aware that some of their labour is for this holy use, but we depend on their work for our Eucharistic meal.
Some of these people we need, from farmers through to shop assistants, may be unhappy, even trapped in their jobs. There may be unsafe work practices, they may be paid substandard wages and work in poor conditions, but still the bread and wine comes. Even the money we have spent to buy it may have come through dishonest hands. This Offering we make is not pure. Yet we bring it, this compromised food, to the Table of the Lord. What else can we do? How else can we get bread and wine? Even if we make it ourselves, where do we get the ingredients from?
This bread and wine really is unpromising material, yet we ‘offer’ it to God as though we are involved in an ancient sacrifice. We offer it as God’s good creation and as the product of human labour.
So what are we doing when we bring bread and wine for our Eucharistic meal? We are doing far more than just putting the food on the table.
When we offer the bread and the wine, this is the offering prayer (from the Methodist Church of Great Britain) that I generally use:
Lord and giver of every good thing,
we bring to you
bread and wine for our communion,
lives and gifts for your kingdom,
all for transformation
through your grace and love
made known in Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
Ordinary bread, ordinary wine, ordinary money, ordinary people, offered to God to use. But none of these things stay ordinary—they are, we are, caught up into God’s good purposes. Remember, we place the bread and wine on the Table for transformation. It becomes the bread of life, the cup of salvation. We could even say it is transfigured. And we receive it for transformation. When we put out our hands for the bread and wine, the elder does not say Here’s some bread and wine for you. Instead, we hear words of life and freedom, words of joy and peace, simple words like these:
The body of Christ, broken for you.
The blood of Christ, shed for you.
What we offer is ordinary bread and wine. Somehow, what we receive is the body and blood of Christ—so that we may become the body of Christ.
Christ feeds us in this meal. Here, Jesus Christ comes to you, comes for you. We receive it as food that will continue God’s transforming work in us, making us truly who we already are—a child of God, the sister or brother of Jesus, the image of Christ, part of the Body.
As we bring ‘lives and gifts’ to be transformed ‘for [God’s] kingdom’, Jesus comes to us to enlist us in the cause of the kingdom, to build a world in which its resources are shared. As we receive the life of Christ within us, we don’t leave all those farmers and grape pickers and shop assistants behind. We represent them. And not only them, but all those who have no chance to be part of the human chain that brings us this bread and this wine—the disabled, the chronically ill, the elderly, the unemployed, people stuck in detention centres. Becoming more like Jesus means having our eyes open to all people, especially if they are in pain, and our ears opened to their cries. They are with us too in this Eucharistic feast.
All this reminds me of the story of the Feeding of the 5000. Do you know why that is?
Whatever else the story of the Feeding in the Wilderness is, it’s a parable about the Eucharist. A little food is brought, ordinary food, five small loaves and two fish. The people sit; Jesus blesses the food, he breaks the bread, and it it distributed. In Jesus’ hands it feeds the multitude, and there is plenty left over.
This meal we eat is small, but it is enough to bring us to eternal life. Enough to transform us, enough to give us a share in the life of Jesus Christ which is pictured by the Transfiguration.
Come, feed on Christ in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving. Amen.
Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday, Year A, 26 January 2017.
Slightly modified from 2014 sermon (https://terce.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/all-for-transformation-transfiguration-of-jesus-year-a-2-march-2014/)