- Parish House
Sermon for The Transfiguration – Luke 9:28-36
The Rev. Dr. Kate Alexander
One of my happy places in this world is a planetarium. I loved them as a child, and I still do. Maybe it’s seeing a real space capsule on display or the astronaut uniforms. Maybe it’s the moon landing exhibits that capture the spirit of human striving and achievement. A planetarium can elicit a sense of awe both for the vastness of space and also for the human spirit. I think those early experiences in a planetarium are what, in part, led me to study theology. And I think I found the most inspiration in those planetarium shows. There’s something about stepping into the dome-shaped theater, filled with that strangely calming, spacey music and dim blue light. It takes a minute for your eyes to adjust. You take your seat and lean back. The troubles of the world fade away for a minute, and you are surrounded by the starry sky in all of its glory.
This summer we took the kids to the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. There was distinct eye rolling involved, as this meant a break from their electronic devices. Not to mention a vibe that the parents were super uncool for choosing this particular outing. But all that changed when we entered the dome theater to watch a show called “Planet 9.” It’s about the search for the ninth planet on the outskirts of our solar system. You might recall that Pluto was demoted to a dwarf planet. And we all felt sort of bad for it. But the New Horizons spacecraft has given us the first close look at Pluto, revealing a world far more complex than anyone realized. What we once thought of as a small planet is actually part of something called the Kuiper Belt, a disc-shaped region of icy bodies – including dwarf planets like Pluto – and comets beyond the orbit of Neptune. It is probably populated with hundreds of thousands of large bodies and an estimated trillion or more comets. Maybe even planets. New research suggests that our solar system is not what we once thought it was when back when Pluto was the farthest planet. This was mind-boggling. Even the kids were captivated. The show reminded me of St. Paul’s words that for now we see in a mirror dimly, but one day we will see face to face.
The story of the Transfiguration of Jesus offers a similar glimpse into a reality that is much more vast than we otherwise thought. But instead of an expanded glimpse into the wonder of God’s creation, the Transfiguration offers a direct glimpse into the wonder of God, into glory itself.
Even the details of the story are filled with glory. Jesus is on top of the mountain, with his disciples Peter, John and James. Elijah and Moses appear in glory, and discuss Jesus’ upcoming death and resurrection, a foreshadowing of God’s glory to come. Jesus’ robe becomes dazzling white. The voice of God booms out of the heavens declaring this to be God’s son. And Peter wants to capture the glory faithfully, offering to build three tents for the holy inhabitants.
It’s hard to put the miracle itself into words. And I’m not sure we should try. I think that’s why the gospel says the disciples kept silent and told no one any of the things they had seen.
But there is an important way for us to connect with the story, and it has to do with the fact that the disciples were sleepy. The story takes place at night, and Peter, John, and James were weighed down with sleep. But even so, there on top of the mountain at that late hour, they demonstrated a capacity for glory. The glory of God was received by those who were created to see that very glory. Glory given, glory received. We, too, are created with a capacity for glory. Even if on ordinary days we can’t see the full glory of God, we can certainly catch a glimpse. Because we were made for that.
In a sermon in 1942, C.S. Lewis explored our desire for this glory, this divine light. He begins by explaining that we do not desire to be glorious in the same way as Jesus, for, he asks, “who wishes to become a kind of living electric light bulb?” It must be something else we’re after. To which he says, it’s that sense of glory, glory as brightness, splendor, and luminosity; that’s what we want. And we want much more than simply to look upon it.
He writes, “We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else, which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it… At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in. When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience, then they will put on glory.”
We will put on glory. Someday we will share in God’s glory in our very being. Maybe that’s why we crave it, and why God gave us a capacity for glory in the here and now.
Take the shining faces of Moses and Jesus in scripture, for example. Don’t we also see glory shining in one another’s faces? It’s quite miraculous to truly behold another person’s face. You can practically see the light of God shining through. We have the capacity to see glory already. Our capacity is imperfect of course, as if our eyes are weighed down with sleep on this side of heaven. But even in our imperfection, the glory breaks through.
C.S. Lewis did add something about that at the end of his sermon. He said, “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself (the bread and wine of Communion) your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ is hidden — the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly within.”
We often talk here at Christ Church about seeing the risen Christ in one another. Glory is another way of talking about that. We come here to train our eyes to see more of God’s glory. We come here to see God’s glory in ourselves and in each other, and to know that none of us is beyond its reach. We come here to see Christ who is healing, resurrecting, and sustaining this world around us. And we come here to see that Christ in our midst.
I like to imagine this space as a kind of planetarium dome. We come here to be comforted and inspired, and to learn something new about our spiritual solar system. When we step into this space, it takes a minute for our eyes to adjust to the heavenly light. And as they do, we come to see more glory then we ever knew existed.