The Feast of the Transfiguration

Transfiguration of the Saviour, Stavronikita Monastery, Athos, Greece, 16th Century

Transfiguration of the Saviour, Stavronikita Monastery, Athos, Greece, 16th Century

This Sunday, August 6, is the Feast of the Transfiguration. Towards the front of The Book of Common Prayer is located The Calendar of the Church Year; in it are lists of all the Feast Days of the Church. Only three named feasts take precedence over Sunday celebrations: The Feasts of The Holy Name of Jesus, The Presentation in the Temple, and The Transfiguration. This feast marks that moment (which appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke) in the life of Jesus when he took Peter, James, and John to the top of a mountain. There, Jesus' appearance is changed - transfigured - and his clothes become blindingly white. Moses and Elijah appear next to him, and a voice from heaven names Jesus as "Son" and "Chosen."

I have always loved icons of the Transfiguration, especially those, like the one above, where to demonstrate the power of this experience the iconographers show the disciples literally being knocked out of their shoes. Here is a detail of the above:

I have to confess one part of my attraction to these images is that they remind of a different sort of artwork from my childhood...

... and another that i discovered some years later...

You could argue that Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes aren't quite on the same plane spiritually as centuries old Greek icons, but I would say that's just because you haven't spent enough time with them. That could be the subject of a later post. What is certain is that in all three, we see the figures involved being knocked out of their shoes. I do believe these other two images help us grasp the immense power being portrayed, something that is often easy to miss in the elevated style of icons.

Peter, James, and John follow Jesus up this mountain, not really knowing what to expect. Whatever they had in mind, i doubt it came close to what actually happened. Throughout Holy Scripture and elsewhere, mountains are often seen as places where the space between God and humankind is very thin indeed. The Transfiguration is a vivd and raw encounter between human and The Divine; it's little wonder the three disciples are terrified.

The readings this Sunday draw our attention to those moments where we come into conscious contact with the Living God; the Feast of the Transfiguration provides us an opportunity to examine our own lives for those same moments when we know God is present, and it is a reminder that we experience one of those moments every time we draw near to the altar of God, when we are fed with the Body of Christ, and we drink from the Cup of Salvation. It is easy to come to church with our thoughts occupied by and our attention turned to something - anything - other than God. My hope is that perhaps this Sunday we might be more mindful of the power of the presence of God. Who knows - we might even get knocked out of our shoes.