Next Saturday the church celebrates The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. Today our reflections and ideas for celebration come from Full Homely Divinity, a website which describes itself as “a website for the Anglican at the Altar and especially for the Anglican in the pew.” The author of the site prefers to remain anonymous for the sake of the glory of God, but has allowed us to republish these excerpts from reflections on the Feast of the Transfiguration. You can find the entire post on this feast here – longer than our usual posts, it contains great insights about the practice of prayer, the view of the feast in the Orthodox Church and more; I recommend it and the rest of the site highly. – ed.
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The feast of the Transfiguration commemorates a truly startling event, shortly before Jesus went up to Jerusalem to enter into his Passion. Going up to the top of a mountain with Jesus, the inner circle of the disciples, Peter, James, and John, are overwhelmed with a brilliant and unearthly manifestation of their Lord in glory as he converses with Moses and Elijah about the things that are to come. For a moment, the humanity of Jesus is infused with light and it is as if his divinity has become palpable. In fact, the disciples are dumbfounded, and can barely find words with which to respond. Although they have been with Jesus constantly for three years, they still do not really understand who he is, but a voice from heaven removes any uncertainty when it proclaims, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” We may say that the Transfiguration is the Gospel in sum: manifesting the glory and power of God as he renews the whole creation and redeems his people from darkness and sin.
This feast’s full restoration in the American revision of The Book of Common Prayer in 1892 may be attributed to the influence of William Reed Huntington. William Reed Huntington was one of the giants of the 19th century Episcopal Church. A leader and a reconciler in critical times, rector of Grace Church, New York City, and a member of the House of Deputies of the General Convention for 36 years, he was known, unofficially of course, as “first presbyter of the Church.” Summers usually found Dr. Huntington on Mount Desert Island, Maine, where he was active in the church of St. Mary-by-the-Sea, which had been founded by William Croswell Doane, the Bishop of Albany, who also summered there. It was Dr. Huntington who proposed to revise the Prayer Book and he contributed two collects: the Collect for Monday in Holy Week, and the Collect for the Feast of the Transfiguration. That feast was first observed at St. Mary’s in 1887 and it was while climbing nearby Sargent Mountain that he found the inspiration for the Collect, which originally read:
O God, who on the mount didst reveal to chosen witnesses thine only-begotten Son wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistering; Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may be permitted to behold the King in his beauty, who with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen.
Like Jesus, Dr. Huntington sought out a lonely mountaintop for prayer. It can hardly be imagined that Peter and James and John found the experience anything but disquieting, and Jesus himself, speaking with Moses and Elijah about the trials to come, must also have had some ambivalence about the experience. Nevertheless, it is through such a transforming experience that we are at last permitted to see the vision glorious–the uncreated Light which is the King himself in all his beauty.
In view of this, time apart, on a mountaintop if possible, but wherever we may withdraw for undisturbed prayer and meditation, is surely the most suitable way of extending this feast beyond the Liturgy into our personal and family festal observances.Just as Lammas Day marks the beginning of the wheat harvest with a special blessing of bread, the Transfiguration has traditionally marked the beginning of the harvest of fruit, particularly the fruit of the vine. The transformation which takes place as fruit develops from the bud, to flower, to ripened fruit is a natural transfiguration. The symbolism here is even more pointed with grapes which continue to be transformed from fruit, to juice, to wine, and then, sacramentally, to the Blood of Christ received in the Eucharist.
In the East, it is customary to bless a variety of fruits at the conclusion of the Liturgy on the Feast of the Transfiguration. In the West, however, only grapes are blessed and it was the custom, at one time, for a handful of grapes to be squeezed directly into the Chalice, mingling the fresh juice with the already consecrated Wine of the Eucharist. Here is a blessing that may be used by the Celebrant to bless grapes for distribution at the conclusion of the Eucharist.
Blessing of Grapes on Transfiguration
Bless, O Father, this new fruit of the vine, which has grown and ripened through good weather, warm sunshine, and drops of rain and dew: may it bring refreshment and joy to us who partake of it. As the buds of the vine have been transformed into ripe and delicious fruit, and as the juice of the fruit is transformed by thy grace into the pure Blood of Christ, so may we be transformed into the mature likeness of him who shed his Blood for us and quenches our thirst with the Cup of Salvation, the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
How might you mark the feast of the Transfiguration?