"Bring Out the Brass!"

Date Sunday March 03, 2019
Service Transfiguration of Our Lord
Text Luke 9:28-43
Author Pastor Jean M. Hansen
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     What in the world do I have to say about Transfiguration Sunday that I haven’t already said? That’s the question that came to mind as I thought about today’s sermon because preaching about Jesus’ transfiguration is a yearly exercise that occurs on the Sunday before Lent begins. SIGH!

     As you can tell, I’m not particularly enthusiastic about Transfiguration Sunday; although I was reminded that I should be. Last Saturday I was with the group from FLC who volunteered at DLC Food and Resource Ministry at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. I was the designated pray-er, which means I met with people who wanted prayer in the “bridal room”, located off the Fellowship Hall. The sanctuary is situated above that room and I could hear what sounded like a rehearsal of brass players. I thought perhaps a concert was being held later that day, so when Pastor Nevergall stopped in to say “hello”, I asked about the music.

     He said it was being provided by their Director of Music and a brass group who were preparing for Transfiguration Sunday. My response, although not out loud was, “You’re kidding! Who would pay brass players to play on Transfiguration Sunday?” (Of course, they could have been volunteers, but the principle still applies – why all that effort for Transfiguration Sunday?)

   Then, again, Transfiguration Sunday is, as one commentator noted, “a glorious festival day”, when Jesus’ reason for being among us is both affirmed and set in motion. So, perhaps I need to get on board with the spirit of the festival.

     It’s interesting, don’t you think, that when festivals are the topic at this time of year, it’s usually Mardi Gras, not the Transfiguration, that comes to mind. Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday, referring to the last day of eating rich food before the leaner days of Lent begin. It occurs, of course, on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Not surprisingly, in a variety of places around the world, Mardi Gras has expanded from a one-day celebration to weeks of partying called “Carnival” that culminates on Fat Tuesday, also known as Shrove Tuesday.

     It’s also interesting that masks are a staple of the Mardi Gras celebration, the purpose being to hide one’s face, and thus identity, so that he or she is freer to go crazy.

     In contrast, in the Transfiguration story, Jesus’ face shines. The Rev. Charles F. Duvall imagines that Jesus was glowing, almost as if he was radioactive. He is shinning brighter than the brightest whites in a modern laundry. The disciples cover their eyes, the light is so bright. But peeking through their fingers they see Moses, whose face had shown with God’s glory when he received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai and Elijah whose journey into heaven was so lit by God’s glory that the chariot seemed to be on fire. Jesus, too, is shining with God’s glory, but he’s not reflecting it; God’s glory is radiating from Jesus. (1)

     Instead of hiding his face, and thus his identity, as happens at Mardi Gras, who Jesus is shines forth. However, like Mardi Gras, the Transfiguration is a “before leaner (or difficult) times” celebration. It occurs just before Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem where he will experience betrayal, denial, arrest, trial, torture, suffering and death.

     Given that, Moses and Elijah have come to encourage Jesus, not just to remind of disciples of who he is. Commentator Scott Hoezee writes that these pillars of the faith have come to inform Jesus that they, along with the hosts of heaven, were gearing up for the fulfillment of everything God had been aiming to accomplish ever since sin and evil showed up in this creation to sully God’s good intentions. (2)

     It’s a celebration, of sorts. What do you think, was it the first pre-Lent Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras get-together? Yet, even this party ended; Moses, Elijah and the brightness disappeared, and Jesus, Peter, James and John came down off the mountain. Jesus, however, brings the power of God with him, as is always the case.

     I don’t know how often I’ve thought of the contrast between the glory on the mountain and struggle and defeat that is going on below.  It’s an illustration of the human situation, we experience both the goodness of God and the power of evil in our lives, often simultaneously. That’s what we see in this post-transfiguration encounter.  A desperate father brings his son, his only child, to Jesus begging for help. He describes his son being mauled and dominated by a spirit that causes him to shriek; to experience convulsions, to foam at the mouth. (Today, we could diagnose and treat this condition, but not then.) The disciples’ attempts to help him haven been futile, a fact which frustrates Jesus. (How long do I have to put up with these guys???)

     At that moment, the pain of a broken world and the glory of God’s presence are standing side by side. Who will prevail? The answer is clear; when Jesus appeared, the battle was won: “Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.” As one commentator noted, even the most obstinate spirit is defeated, even when it seems to be a lost cause, there is new life.  This, too, is our story, thanks to Jesus and it’s the true culmination of the Transfiguration; the masks of suffering come off, and lives are transformed.

     Ultimately, being transformed is where we want to end up in 40+ days. It’s traditional during Lent to focus on repentance and spiritual growth, not on celebration. Did you know that in some congregations there is a tradition on Shrove Tuesday not only of eating and drinking heartily before Lent begins, but also of burying the “alleluia”? (Alleluia being a liturgical proclamation of praise.) A sung farewell is offered, and then a banner or other visual representation of the alleluia is “buried” (hidden). It’s the last time the word “alleluia” will be used in worship until Easter Sunday.

      We have not buried the alleluia here, although we do refrain from using it. However, as we journey toward transformation, our masks are removed. First, we take off the masks that hide who we are from ourselves, name our sin, and receive instead a cross of ashes. Then, during Lent, we take off the masks that keep us from truly seeing, accepting and loving one another. For us, that can happen during the Interfaith Justice Series as we gather with people whose lives are different from ours’ to share a meal, worship together and discuss the journey of conversion from hate to forgiveness. Third, during Holy Week, we take off masks that prevent us from coming face to face with Jesus’ suffering. And finally, on Easter, the masks protect us from the fear of death are tossed aside.

      Perhaps some of you will celebrate Mardi Gras on Tuesday, with or without a mask, depending on how wild you want to be. However, let’s not ignore that this journey toward transformation begins before Fat Tuesday and before Ash Wednesday; it starts on this glorious festival day … so bring out the brass!


  1. “Seeing Things in a New Light” by the Rev. Charles F. Duvall, February 18, 2007, Luke 9:28-36, www.day1.org

“Last Epiphany C” by Scott Hoezee, Luke 9:28-36, Center for Excellence in Preaching