The Consolation of the Transfiguration … and Slippers: A Homily for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany

Preached at St. James by the Rev. David Henson on Feb. 11, 2024

Something happened when I turned 43 this past week. It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I suppose it’s the kind of thing that happens with age.

You see, for my 43rd birthday, I got really into slippers.

And not just any slippers.

I’ve had slippers before, of course. But they were usually either cheap or novelty slippers. These, though? These are the most extraordinary slippers ever made. There these felted, shearling slippers made by Birkenstock. I’ve actually had my eye on them for more than a year and finally found them on sale at Mast General the week before my birthday. So I took it as a sign from God. 

Words cannot accurately capture just how extraordinarily comfortable these things are. You think I’m exaggerating, but the first week I had them, I would actually daydream about them at work and couldn’t get wait to get home so I could put them on. So much so I might have suggested I maybe need a pair for work as well.

Something almost magical happens to me when I put them on. I feel utterly and completely transformed.

They’re like a warm hug for your feet. All the stress of the day just sort of slides away when I slide my feet into them. I find myself involuntarily taking a deep, cleansing breath, my heart rate seems to slow, and it feels, at least for a moment, like everything is going to be alright when I put these slippers on. 

They’re not just comfortable.

They’re comforting. Consoling even.

I wish I could buy you all a pair of these. Unfortunately, they are way overpriced. But I’d love for you to slide your feet into a pair of these slippers as you listen to the familiar story of the Transfiguration. 

Because it might change how you hear it. As a matter of fact, as strange as it probably sounds, I want to suggest to you that the divine revelation of Christ’s glory in the transfiguration might actually be a lot like a really nice pair of slippers.

Just stay with me. I promise it’ll make sense in a minute. I hope.

When you imagine the light during the Transfiguration, what’s it like? What would it feel like? 

Painfully bright? A blinding light? Harshly revealing? A searingly hot, cleansing light, almost like the heat of a forge? A cold, bright white light? 

That’s certainly how I’ve often thought of it and how most art seems to depict it traditionally. There’s something uncomfortable about that light. It makes people cower and cover their eyes. 

In large part, I think we assume that more because of the disciples’ fearful reaction to the Transfiguration than the actual message of the revelation itself.

But what if the light of the Transfiguration wasn’t cold or harsh or uncomfortable in some way? 

What if that light was soft, warm, reassuring, less like the oppressive sun of the searing desert and more like the sun’s first warm rays of spring after a long, cold, and gray winter. You know, the kind of light that makes everyone find their walking shoes because you just have to be in it. 

The kind of light you want to bathe in, with your eyes closed, soaking up the glory of creation, of humanity, of the holy.

And somehow that light makes you feel, even if just for a moment, like everything is going to be okay, because there is something so much bigger and more powerful than you and it’s there to wrap you in love and warmth. 

Now, that’s not typically how we approach the light in this story, but that’s because we take our cue from Peter’s terrified response. But, it’s worth noting that, especially in Mark, Peter isn’t the most reliable source of wisdom. God bless him, despite his best intentions, he puts his foot in his mouth so frequently and so spectacularly he almost seems willfully dim most of the time. 

Take the events leading up to the Transfiguration. Six days before Christ takes Peter and the others to the mountaintop, the disciple and teacher have one of their most intense and upsetting exchanges. After Jesus reveals that he will be crucified and die and that disciples must too take up their crosses, Peter, facing the light of that harsh reality, actually takes Jesus aside and rebukes him and forbids his teacher from ever saying such things. 

Jesus, of course, responds without missing a beat, not just by telling Peter he’s got it all wrong but also by calling him Satan incarnate, the adversary, a little devil. Get thee behind me Satan, he says. 

And so for those intervening six days, Peter has to sit not only with the revelation of his Lord’s mortality and coming death, but his own failure and apparent rejection by Jesus. 

When Jesus takes his devil Peter to the mountaintop, it might well have been the misguided disciple thought he was being taken out to the woodshed so to speak. I mean, they’d already seen Jesus send demons off a cliff to their demise. Maybe, feeling the sting of Christ’s words, gets a little anxious on that uphill hike as he starts thinking of Isaac’s own hike up the mountain with Abraham where a sacrificial altar was waiting. Was he waiting to drop the other shoe at the summit? Is that why only a handful of the disciples were invited? 

To make matters worse, Jesus is transfigured. He turns dazzling white and Moses and Elijah appear.

Peter is terrified. Of course he is. Here is Peter—Satan, according to Jesus less than a week ago, standing among the holiest lights of the faith. Would Elijah call down fire to consume him like the prophet did to the false priests of Baal? Would Moses pull a plague from the pages of history or throw down the Law in anger like he did on Mt. Sinai when confronted with the people’s failure in the faith? 

So, Peter does what many of us do when anxiety overwhelms us, he fills up the empty space with the first things that pop into his head, no matter how absurd, and he offers to build them all dwellings so they can move in together. 

But nothing gets consumed and there’s no divine anger falling from on high. No one gets plagued or bound to a sacrificial altar. There’s no punishment. There’s nothing negative at all.

Nothing really to fear.

As a matter of fact, God actually has to interrupt Peter’s fearful response by proclaiming from heaven that in Jesus, the center, the identity, of the full revelation of God on earth is belovedness itself. 

In response to Peter’s fear, God speaks and simply invites the poor confused disciple to actually listen to the Son, to Jesus, who is the voice of Love, its embodiment and incarnation of it, that Jesus is perfect Love come to life.

In the midst of the worst imaginable news possible, that the cross and suffering are inevitabilities for Jesus and for them, the transfiguration happens. The revelation of the glory of God in Christ occurs not when things are going great, but when it’s gotten rather dark. 

But because Peter can’t seem to get out of his own way and away from his own fear, he almost misses the gift of something so gloriously bright and so tenderly beautiful.

Perhaps the transfiguration was intended as reassurance after failure, a comfort after the disorienting revelation of the looming cross, something warm and light and holy to hold onto, deep in their souls, as the actual truth at the heart of the world that love not death and mercy not punishment hold all creation together, that love and mercy are at the center of God’s creation even when everything would seem to suggest otherwise.

What if the Transfiguration was a gift to these disciples, meant for their consolation in the midst of hardship, reminding them like a warm pair of slippers, that everything is going to be okay, even when it wasn’t, even when the trajectory of their lives would take them to the cross.

In this world, we will all carry our fair share of crosses. We might even drive a few nails in them, too. We will come face to face with our mortality and shortcomings. I don’t know how it will find you, exactly, but it will. Not even Jesus could avoid suffering and death. 

Death of a loved one too early, or after too much suffering. Broken and estranged relationships. Bombed out homes in a war zone. Hunger, homelessness, eviction, a loss of a job, an unexpected slide down the economic latter. Depression, legal troubles, midlife crisis, loneliness. 

Or like Peter, the revelation that the person you love must, who you gave up everything for, is going to die and suffer terribly in a crucifixion that will crush your own soul and there’s nothing you can do about it. 

Maybe God’s response to these difficult moments like these isn’t to fix them, much as we might want God too. What if God’s response is transfiguration instead, a glimpse of the holy, a reminder of our belovedness because God’s name is the Beloved.

What if God’s response to our sins and confusion isn’t a cold harsh light, but a warm and restorative one. What if God sees our suffering and our failures and doesn’t ask us to beat ourselves up further, but instead tries to slide us into a perfect pair of slippers?

Maybe when we like Peter, either mess things up or get news that makes our souls shake, God shows up with the light of love, with the comfort and consolation of mercy, beauty, and grace, if we can but settle our hearts enough to see it.

It might not be something as dramatic as the Transfiguration. It might be an unexpected chocolate chip cookie on your desk during a difficult week, a kind word from a friend at just the right moment, a phone call from someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time, a bird singing at daybreak, forgiveness you don’t quite feel like you deserve, a quiet gesture of repair and reconciliation, fireflies sparking in the treetops, peals of laughter from a small child, a newborn napping on your shoulder, or a dog snuggling up next to you like they know you need it, or maybe even a really extraordinary pair of slippers. 

 

 

Eulogy for Christoph Herpel

We have had several requests for a copy of the eulogy for Christoph Herpel by his husband, Dr. Joshua Farrier. Below is the full text courtesy of Dr. Farrier.  Christoph Herpel Eulogy —Dr. Joshua Farrier Christoph Herpel was born on the 25th of April, 1975 in...

For Thine is the Trouble and the Glory: A Sermon for Lent 5B

Each and every Sunday in the Lord’s Prayer we add a concluding line that actually isn’t part of the prayer our Lord taught in the Gospels. “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.” That short concluding doxology is a later addition,...

Love Builds a House: A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Epiphany

Preached at St. James by the Rev. David Henson on Jan. 29, 2024 Who remembers those little “all-in-one” hermetically sealed, totally sanitary packages of bread and wine we used for so long during the pandemic? They were like cruel and frustrating tests of manual...

The Parable of the Dishonest Steward, by The Rev. David Henson

“And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth.” In Return of the Jedi, after it’s announced that Lando Calrissian will lead an attack on the terrifying enemy battlestation ominously called the Death Star, Han Solo, played by Harrison Ford,...

What Unites Humanity?, by The Rev. David Henson

If Jesus comes not to bring peace but division, then what is it that implicitly unites us as a species? What is the unspoken unity that Christ’s division rightfully disrupts? What unites humanity, but unites it wrongly? As I’ve pondered the division Jesus seeks to...