Feast of the Transfiguration

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for Aug. 6, 2023 (Feast of the Transfiguration)

First Reading: Exodus 34:29-35

We take a break from the long season of Sundays after Pentecost this week because the Feast of the Transfiguration, traditionally celebrated on August 6, falls on a Sunday this year and takes precedence over the standard Lectionary.

The Transfiguration of Christ

The Transfiguration of Christ (1605), oil painting on canvas by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). Musee de Beaux Arts of Nancy, France. (Click image to enlarge.)

Our other readings for Sunday all foreshadow the event described in Matthew, Mark, and Luke: Peter, James and John join Jesus on a mountaintop and are startled to see him, accompanied by Moses and Elijah, transfigured in dazzling white and shining like the Sun. In our first reading we hear that when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, his face, too, shone like the Sun.

Psalm: Psalm 99

This ancient hymn portrays God as a powerful king receiving loud chants of praise. In the temple in Jerusalem, two cherubim – fierce angels appearing as lions with wings and human faces – were placed atop the Ark of the Covenant to serve as God’s throne. Our God is no petty tyrant, the Psalmist sings, but a mighty ruler who expects justice and provides equity for the righteous. God speaks out of clouds and fire, demanding justice for all, dealing out punishment when it’s needed, but ultimately forgiving all.

Second Reading: 2 Peter 1:16-21

Modern bible scholars generally accept that this letter, perhaps the last written in the New Testament, is not the work of Simon Peter, the apostle. It was almost certainly written in Peter’s name by a leader in the early church a century or more after the Crucifixion. Still, it opens a window into the thinking of the second-century church, when believers were trying to understand why Jesus had not returned as soon as had been expected. Everything they have heard about Jesus is true, the letter reassures them, speaking as if in Peter’s own voice: Peter himself was present at the Transfiguration. Trust in God, we hear, and wait for the dawn and the morning star.

Gospel: Luke 9:28-36

We hear the story of the Transfiguration Gospel every year on the last Sunday after Epiphany. Now we encounter it again in midsummer: Peter, John and James, mouths dropping in awe, see Jesus joined by Moses and Elijah, all talking mysteriously about Jesus’s “departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Jesus is transfigured, his face shining and his clothing dazzling white. Then a cloud forms around them all and God’s voice thunders out of the cloud, once again intoning the words that God had spoken from a cloud at Jesus’s baptism by John in the Jordan: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”


If you’d like to keep up with the lectionary readings for Pntecost 10A that are replaced by the Transfiguration readings this week, they are:
First Reading (Track One): Genesis 32:22-31
First Reading (Track Two): Isaiah 55:1-5
Psalm (Track One): Psalm 17:1-7, 15
Psalm (Track Two): Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Second Reading: Romans 9:1-5
Gospel: Matthew 14:13-21

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