Sermon Archives

Sunday, August 6, 2017
Feast of the Transfiguration (Year A)
The Reverend Areeta Bridgemohan, Curate
Feast of the Transfiguration

O Lord, take my lips and speak through them; take our minds and think through them; take our hearts and set them on fire with love for you. Amen.

Krishna is one of the best loved deities in the Hindu pantheon. He is the eighth avatar of the god Vishnu; and is a god of compassion, tenderness and love. One story about his childhood, tells of a time he was playing with a group of other little boys. At one point, perhaps to try to get him into trouble, they ran back to his mother, saying “Krishna has eaten dirt!”

His mother took Krishna by the hand and as she began to scold him, she demanded to know why he was eating dirt. He protested, saying that he hadn’t and if she didn’t believe him – she should look into his mouth and check. He opened his mouth, and as she looked inside, the text says that she saw: “the whole eternal universe, and heaven, and the regions of the sky, and the orbit of the earth with its mountains, islands, and oceans; she saw the wind, and lightning, and the moon and stars, and the zodiac; and water and fire and air and space itself; she saw the vacillating senses, the mind, the elements, and the three strands of matter. She saw within the body of her son, in his gaping mouth, the whole universe in all its variety, with all the forms of life and time and nature and action and hopes, and her own village, and herself.” 

Krishna’s mother receives a glimpse of the fullness of who Krishna truly is; she sees her little son, but she sees his divine nature as well. And in the universe contained within her little boy, she sees herself too.

In this story, the boundaries are blurred between the human and the divine, and the spiritual and the material world are joined in an astonishing moment.

In our Gospel story today, the disciples witness a direct manifestation of Jesus’ divinity. Shortly before this scene, Peter declares that he believes Jesus to be the Messiah of God. The miracle of the transfiguration confirms what the disciples already knew about Jesus. In this moment, Jesus’ divinity is visible and shines through his humanity, disrupting the boundaries that we are accustomed to.

Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and theologian, says: “the created universe may be a generally regular place; we can predict and understand how things are and will be. But this is not the last word. In relation to God, there is no finally closed door in creation, and the environment becomes charged with possibilities we don’t know about.” 

Jesus’ transfiguration reminds us that there are no boundaries that can exile God, all boundaries are unsettled boundaries – all places are vulnerable to God’s presence.

This past Thursday afternoon, Grosse Pointe Park officials dedicated a new sculpture symbolizing a civic bond with Detroit. The sculpture will be placed in the middle of a street where, three years ago, a controversial traffic-calming device between Grosse Pointe and Detroit was erected. The sculpture is called “Sails of Two Cities” – a reference to the way both Detroit and Grosse Pointe have been shaped by their proximity to the water. Erik Nordin, one of the creators of the sculpture, said: “sailing isn’t just about sitting in calm water, it’s about sailing through tumultuous waters. Everybody goes through good and bad times, and the sculpture speaks to that.” 

The title of the piece also makes reference to the 1859 Charles Dickens novel, Tale of Two Cities.

Erik Nordin said “We wanted to create a piece about two communities living together side by side and looking for the best in one another.” Despite the good will and best of intentions, the reality also remains that the sculpture’s site is a traffic barricade. It marks an unsettled boundary, imbued with mixed motivations and evoking mixed responses, reflecting the unsettled relationship between the city and the suburbs of Detroit.

In traditional Eastern Orthodox icons of Christ’s transfiguration, Jesus stands on the mountain top, standing in front of what is called a ‘mandorla’, which is the Italian word for ‘almond’. The mandorla is an almond shape that is depicted behind Christ, usually dark blue or black. That dark background represents the depths of heavenly reality.

The mandorla is sometimes concentric, getting darker towards the centre.  Perhaps indicating that in order to know God, it is necessary to travel further into dark places, where we encounter the limits of our vision and knowledge.

To me, the mandorla represents the formless void that existed at the beginning of creation, the world awaiting God’s order and light. I think it also depicts the darkness in the world, and within each and every one of our hearts. Jesus stands between us and that darkness, radiating the glorious truth that the darkness cannot overcome the light.

You may have heard the name Craig Peterson on our prayer lists these past few Sundays. On July 23rd, Craig Peterson, who was a parishioner and key ministry leader at the Church of the Messiah, died. The Church of the Messiah is an Episcopal church on the East side of Detroit that has been in relationship with Christ Church over the years.

His memorial service was held yesterday morning. Loved ones offered tributes, sharing how Craig inspired them to be better fathers, family and community members.

Pastor Barry reflected on a time in 2009 when the church was teetering on the edge. The church had about 40 members, had no money, and were responsible for a huge building that they couldn’t afford. When he asked people to accompany him on the journey of building the church back up, Craig and two other friends – he called them ‘fools’ – went with him – up the mountain to see God’s vision and back down again to make it reality. Craig did not grumble or complain, he said ‘yes’ and went.

Pastor Barry told those gathered that the best way to remember Craig and his steadfast commitment, was to get up off their ‘assets’ and go. Get up and go and do something. Share the gifts that God had given them. Be better fathers, be better family members, do something for their community. Then he announced that in memory of Craig, Church of the Messiah would create a Craig Peterson Video Production company. All those present applauded in support, and for a moment, that sad occasion was transformed into a celebration that Craig’s legacy and life would continue to flow through the community, reaching out to touch the lives of others.

Our Christian faith calls us to live in the knowledge that the death and darkness in our lives cannot decide the boundaries of God’s light and love. Jesus’ transfiguration, with his dazzling robes, his brightly shining skin, emanating divine love, standing in front of the darkness of the mandorla, reminds us that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Jesus’ transfiguration foreshadows his resurrection. In the same way that we are promised that we will participate in his resurrection, we are also promised that God seeks to transfigure each one of us and all of creation, drawing us into the divine, healing and transforming love that knows no boundaries or limits.