Andrew Suitter

The Feast of the Transfiguration

Luke 9:28-36

Transfixed: Breaking the Silence

Augustine of Hippo, our beloved St. Augustine, once said, “Be what you see, receive what you are.” “Be what you see, receive what you are.” “Be what you see, receive what you are.” In his sermon about the Eucharist, Augustine penned these words about the bread we see raised up every week that we gather together.  He says,

Remember that bread is not made from one grain, but from many.  When you were being exorcised, it’s as though you were being ground.  When you were baptized it’s as though you were mixed into the dough.  When you received the fire of the Holy Spirit, it’s as though you were baked.  Be what you see, and receive what you are.[1]

One of the first times I ever attended an Episcopal church service, several things stood out to me. First, we had the struggle of juggling a bulletin, a hymnal and a Book of Common Prayer. Second, we had the struggle of juggling a bulletin, a hymnal and a Book of Common Prayer, all the while doing the calisthenics of genuflecting, sitting, kneeling and standing. I wondered what I was getting myself into.  Three, it confirmed for me that introverts everywhere might possibly dread the passing of the peace.  And fourth, and perhaps the most serious, is the sound of the breaking of the bread. 

This thing we experience together every week was for me, the first time, memorable.  The silence in the room was palpable.  Our eyes, transfixed by this bright Host being raised up to God, watch, and out of the silence comes this cracking, this breaking of the bread.  The silence continues as it is brought down, laid on the plate and we pause together for a brief moment.  “Alleluia,” the priest said.  “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us.” And we replied, “Therefore, let us keep the feast, Alleluia.”

I have never forgotten that experience, and I hope I never do.  The silence, the sounds of cracking and breaking, of this wafer becoming the body of Christ that is reflected in you and in me was somehow transfixed.  It was as if this Host brought me to attention, and snapped me out of this liminal space where my own problems seemed to go on the back burner. I was invited to sit in that silence, and wait to experience something holy. That silence might well have been the words we hear spoken to the disciples today.  A voice that said, “Hey, Listen. This is my Son.”

Be  what you see, receive what you are.

The transfiguration is a text that present us with the opportunity to imagine where is it in our own lives, God might be saying, “Hey, you.” Maybe it is to say, “I love you,” or “I have this taken care of” or, “this thing over here, this is what I am calling you to do.” It shows us the many ways God comes to us to confirm God’s own love for us, and God’s involvement in our lives especially when we do not always feel it, remember it, or believe it. 

What I have come to love about Luke’s version of the Transfiguration is that the disciples seem to have a certain familiar quality to them.  Sure they are set apart as disciples, but they too don’t always “get it.” They too do not always understand what is before them and miss what might be in front of them—and yet God still calls and equips them. 

Sometimes, we can’t get out of our own way.  We can become so focused on what we know, or on what we have experienced, that it is hard to imagine new ventures, new callings, or even the original one we set out on.    

This is what we see happening with the disciples in this passage.  Consider, Peter.  Just a bit before where we pick up today in Luke, it is Peter who just confesses faith in our Lord—and if we remember the Passion—we know it is also Peter who denies his faith—despite knowing all that he does.  And yet it is that same depth of knowledge and experience that eventually brings him back to faith. 

The two other disciples, James and John, who have more minor roles in this passage, seem to be along for the hike as part of the pack, and are described by Luke as being “weighed down with sleep.” If you have ever hiked in higher elevations, it is easy to imagine this.  Whenever I have hiked in Colorado or Utah, I notice that my body tires much more easily than in normal altitudes.  I have to drink more water, and push through the lingering dull headache that takes a day or two to go away.  Luke tells us the disciples pushed through their weighted sleepiness, and by doing so got to experience something amazing. 

The synoptic versions of this story, found in Mark, Matthew and Luke, vary in some regard.  Luke wrote his gospel with the knowledge of Mark’s gospel.  All three gospel accounts include Peter’s intention to build three dwellings for Jesus, Moses and Elijah, but only Luke is specific about the purpose of the group’s trip to the mountain, which was to pray.What stands out to me most about these disciples is that for as long as they have been following Jesus, and been engaged with the Hebrew scriptures, they still did not see what was before them. 

When Jesus appeared with Moses, and Elijah, Peter wanted to build a dwelling place for them and keep them around—despite knowing that what was to come for Jesus was not good.  Perhaps Peter was protective, or perhaps he was even afraid or just shortsighted. But one thing he teaches all of us, is that following Christ into the known and unknown can be hard without the grounding of a community, a Body of Christ, to walk these things out with us. It is often the community gathered here each week, this Body of Christ, that reminds us to keep going, to keep pushing through even if our faith or our courage is challenged.

Luke calls us, the community of the Body of Christ, to prayer.  Luke calls us to the quiet, to the places where we might have to push through, in order that we might hear from God. And graceful Luke reminds us that even when we do listen, when God does speak so clearly to our hearts, we still may not get things right on the first try or two—and that is part of our faith journey together. 

Be what you see, receive what you are.

Perhaps it was the Holy Spirit I felt that morning in my first Episcopal Service.  Perhaps it was the divine moving through imperfect hands and people, calling us to do holy things. 

In a recent conversation with my friend and seminary colleague, Claire Brown, she said something quite thoughtful about how striving for perfection in anything, especially our understanding of God, and our service to God, can blur the ways we can see and hear God at work in our lives.  Claire says,

Perfectionism is wanting not just a change of clothes and a walking stick for our mission, but also maybe some decent hotel reservations, a game plan, and a buddy system—at least Siri…Perfectionism is sending the hungry crowd away because we can’t try the hard new thing if we think we might fail.  Perfectionism, God help us, is trying to interrupt the epiphany and put a shrine around it so that we can control what’s happening or document it…[2]

Perhaps we live with these expectations from time to time.  Perhaps we, like the disciples, want to build a box for God.  Perhaps we too get overwhelmed, and unable to see maybe where God has been in the story all along, or where it is God is leading us in the future. 

Listen to the silence after the bread is broken.  It calls us back time and time again, and invites us to relationship with God and one another—as imperfect as we are—to break bread, to break new ground, and to offer our hands and our hearts to the work of our Lord that is loving and healing this world.  This is the body of Christ in action.  This is the word made flesh among us. 

Be what you see, receive what you are. Amen.



[1] Augustine of Hippo, Sermon about the Eucharist, numbered 272, found in St. Anslem archives.

[2] Conversation with colleague Claire Brown, thoughts around perfection and the drive to always get it right.