Sunday, August 06, 2017


St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
Church of the Incarnation, Jersey City NJ
August 6, 2017

The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Exodus 34:29-35
Psalm 99
2 Peter 1:13-21
Luke 9:28-36

            It’s a little hard for me to believe, but, I’ve been a priest for almost ten years and so, by now, after having celebrated the Eucharist many hundreds of times, quite a few of the words of the service are etched pretty deeply in my memory.
            Like, for example, the words of absolution I say after we make our confession of sin.
            “Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ…”
            But, a couple of months ago at our 10:00 service, something unusual and a little unnerving happened.
            Maybe some of you who were here noticed it.
            After we had knelt and made our confession, I stood up as I always do and began to say those familiar words, “Almighty God…”
            But then my memory failed me and I completely forgot the rest of the words. It all just flew out of my head.
            In my confusion, I managed to string together a few sort of similar words that I trust got the job done – God’s going to forgive us no matter what I say or don’t say – but, it really bothered me that I had forgotten something that I thought I had known so well.
            I think I was probably just tired or distracted and, fortunately, I haven’t noticed any other memory problems, but in that moment I had just a small, confusing taste of what it’s like to really forget, to lose one’s memory.
Of course, like probably all of us, I’ve known people, including some people I’ve loved very much, who as they aged grew forgetful or confused, and some who developed full-blown dementia.
            It’s a terrifying and deeply sad thing, right?
            It’s terrifying and sad for lots of reasons but one of the big ones is that, to a large extent, it’s our memory that makes us who we are.
            Thanks to our memory, we know who we are and whose we are.
            Thanks to our memory, we know who we love and who loves us.         
            But, the truth is, even if we’re in perfect health, it’s sometimes hard to remember these most important things, especially when the going gets tough, especially when there are so many distractions, so many pressures, and so many fears, especially during times of (as today’s collect says), “disquietude.”
            Today we celebrate, we remember, the Feast of the Transfiguration.
We remember this mysterious mountaintop experience - a preview of Easter, a glimpse of heaven - when Peter, James, and John see Jesus transformed before their eyes, and witness the appearance of two of the greatest biblical figures, Moses and Elijah.
These three disciples get to overhear a conversation between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah – a conversation about Jesus’ “departure.”
            Even the often-dense Peter realizes that he has witnessed something remarkable, so he wants to memorialize this experience by building three shrines, one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.
            No sooner does Peter get this perfectly reasonable suggestion out of his mouth, than the experience becomes even more awesome when they – and we – get to hear the voice of God say:
            “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
            And, then… it’s over.
            This powerful, mysterious, literally awesome experience - a preview of Easter, a glimpse of heaven - lives on only in memory.
            Jesus and his disciples came down from the mountain, and continued the ministry of teaching and healing, this holy work that will be so very threatening to the religious and political leaders that they’ll plot against Jesus, arrest him, torture him, and finally kill him.
            Jesus will “depart.”
            During those hard days it must have been so difficult to remember the preview of Easter that Jesus and his friends had glimpsed on the mountain – hard for his disciples to remember and maybe even hard for Jesus himself to remember.
            And even after the empty tomb, even after Easter, even after the Ascension when Jesus “departed” again, back when the Church was so small and struggling for survival, during those days of “disquietude,” it must have been hard for the first followers of Jesus to remember all of those amazing experiences, all of the puzzling sayings and miraculous healings, even hard to remember the mountaintop experience with Moses and Elijah and even the voice of God.
            But, they did remember – just like the Jews, they remembered by coming together to tell their stories over and over again and eventually writing them down and reading them and copying them and spreading them around so that even when individual memories faded and failed, the stories – the Story – would never be forgotten.
            As an example, today’s second lesson comes from what we call the Second Letter of Peter, and was probably written around the year 100, maybe even later than that, written long after the Apostle Peter was dead, written by a faithful Christian who heard, remembered and wrote down the story of the Transfiguration, which has been passed down to us.
            Thanks to our memory, we know who we are and whose we are.
            Thanks to our memory, we know whom we love and who loves us.
            The Church is a community of memory.
            And, I don’t know about you, but in our time with all of its distractions, pressures, and fears – in our time of so much fast-paced change and so much noise and oh so big challenges, in the midst of all this “disquietude,” sometimes I feel like I’m in danger of forgetting more than just the words of absolution.
            Sometimes, even as a “professional Christian,” I feel like I’m in danger of forgetting the big stuff, forgetting the stories, forgetting the Story.
            So, we gather here in church week after to week is to have our own little mountaintop experience, to get a preview of Easter, a glimpse of heaven.
We come here as a community of memory to remember – to remember the old but somehow always new stories – and, especially, to remember who we are and whose we are – to remember who we love and who loves us.