The Transfiguration of All Things
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on the Feast of the Transfiguration, Sunday, August 6, 2017
It is very important that we wrap our minds around the two truths when we are drawn to speak of the Holy Trinity. One, that the doctrine of the Trinity is the beating heart of our faith. Without it there is no Christianity. And Christianity where the Trinity is not central or has been forgotten or ignored has lost its soul.
Two: the Holy Trinity is not only difficult to understand, it is impossible to understand and that is a good thing. We need to stop thinking we’ve got it. The place of not-knowing throws us into a new way of living called relationship and that gives birth to contemplation and mysticism. Karl Rahner said it well, “In the days ahead, you will either be a mystic (one who has experienced God for real) or nothing at all.” We are called to enter a conscious, unmediated union with the Holy Trinity. That is salvation as deification, salvation as relationship.
The Transfiguration is a window into many mysteries. We learn that God is three in one (the Son is transfigured, the Father speaks, and the Holy Spirit appears as a luminous cloud). We learn that God-in-Trinity is accessible, he is here, he is with us always, and he is welcoming. And he is all-inclusive. You see, the light transfigures not only Christ but the mountain and everything on it, his clothes, and the three apostles.
Berdayev says it beautifully, “The central idea of the Eastern Fathers was that of theosis, the divinization of all creatures, the transfiguration of the world…of the cosmos and (listen to this) not the idea of personal salvation.” This is the result of Trinitarian theology.
So, Trinitarian spirituality begins where we do not like to begin: shrouded in impenetrable mystery and luminous awe. Every Theophany has this effect on the human mind. Through them God breaks down all the barriers that the mind loves to create. Every Theophany has the purpose of helping us begin to obey the first commandment of Jesus in his first sermon in Mark’s Gospel: change your mind, repent.
So today we see the three apostles on their faces and in confusion. When Peter comes to and begins to reason again suggesting that three booths be built, once again he is shut down. No walls, no doors, no boundaries can exist in the kingdom of heaven.
Bishop JOHN told us a story Fr. Thomas Hopko used to tell about a young boy in Sunday School who responded to his teacher’s question about the Trinity saying, “It’s a mythery.” She was confused and replied, “I don’t understand.” He said, “You’re not suppothed to, it’s a mythery.” He also liked to say, “You can’t know God, but you have to know him to know that.” See! Mythery!
In mystical contemplation the mind has to be still and the heart has to take over. Trinitarian spirituality is a leap into the unknown because it is a relationship and relationships are always leaps into the divine darkness, entries into the unpredictable – a letting go of control, a surrender to wonder.
Carl Jung draws this distinction for us in a way that I think is most profound, “If our religion is based on salvation, our chief emotions will be fear and trembling. If our religion is based on wonder, our chief emotion will be gratitude.”
Fr. Stephen Rogers and I spent some time in wonderful conversation at the convention last week. I love what he said about prayer.
"My prayers have been reduced to five words: wow, thank you, and help me."
This quote by Nietzsche also makes a great deal of sense in this light:
"You know a moment is important when it is making your mind go numb with beauty."
I dare to say the same is true of those moments when we become conscious of God's immediate presence. When beauty overwhelms us and brings our internal dialogue to a halt and the mind takes a deep breath and all we can do is stand in wonder and all we are able to say is “wow,” then, I believe, we can be sure that we are in the presence of God. In the words of Arvo Part. “Silence is the pause in me when I am near to God.
This is a state we can train ourselves to always be open to by being mindful and paying attention, by learning how to let go of having to be in control, how to be comfortable with mystery, how to say yes to God, to beauty, to love. This is the point of prayer and sacrament, to make us aware, open and receptive to God so that we can join in the great divine liturgy the entire cosmos is perpetually celebrating.
This liturgy we are celebrating together today, like the Transfiguration, illumines not only those of us present, aware, and participating, but all of creation from the smallest atomic particles to the every-expanding universe itself. In the blessing of the grapes we will do today, we are blessing every grape in the world, every fruit, every animal, every atom in the entire universe and when we carry our thanksgiving outside these walls we are doing the work Christ commanded us to do.