Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Week of the beginning of Lent, 2010, Part Two


This Sunday has been the occasion of some confusion over the past few years. The first edition of the Canadian BAS included the Common Lectionary of 1983 [for further information on Consultation on Common Texts, which produced the lectionary, see]. After this the Canadian House of Bishops directed that the CCT’s Revised Common Lectionary (1992) be used instead. A new printing of the BAS followed this directive (this is reflected on the title page, which now runs, The Book of Alternative Services … with the Revised Common Lectionary.
The earlier printing provided for “The Last Sunday after the Epiphany”, but did not provide proper prayers or readings for it. The newer printing of the BAS does provide proper prayers and readings: the fact that it is tucked in at the end of the Sunday Propers (p, 397) suggests that this was an afterthought. In the Revised Common Lectionary this Sunday is known as “The Last Sunday after the Epiphany: Transfiguration Sunday”; the term Transfiguration Sunday is not found in the Canadian book.
Some people have asked whether this Sunday is meant to replace the traditional feast of the Transfiguration on 6 August. It would seem not, for both our Calendar and that of the Roman Church both provide fot the feast of the Transfiguration and for the Transfiguration Gospels to be read on a Sunday near the beginning of Lent. The Roman Catholic Church reads these Gospels on the Second Sunday in Lent instead of the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. The BAS also allows this as an option (see p. 288). Altogether it seems to me that the Transfiguration readings are provided for Last after Epiphany or Lent II out of a desire to keep our readings in step with the wider church (though one has to decide in this case which group to keep in step with), but NOT to replace the feast on 6 August.
The feast of the Transfiguration, by the way, is not particularly ancient. It was celebrated on various days in different places from about the tenth century until 1456, when Pope Callixtus II made it a feast of the whole Western Church in honour of Hunyady’s victory over the Turks at Belgrade on 6 August of that year. In all the Books of Common Prayer down to 1662 the Transfiguration was not a Red-letter day, and had no propers. The Proposed English Revision of 1927 restored it as a Red-letter day with propers prayers and readings. It is a Red-letter day in Canada 1962 and in the BAS, but there is no suggestion in the BAS that keeping it has anything to do with what you do on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday.
Come to think of it, The Sunday before Ash Wednesday would be a better name for this Sunday than the Last after Epiphany but for one thing: the glory of the Transfiguration and the heavenly voice which echoes the words heard at Jesus' Baptism are a manifestation of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and round off this theme while leading on to Lent and the Christian Passover.
This Sunday can be tricky for anyone following the Daily Office Lectionary who does not have a copy of the ORDO at had. On the Sunday before Ash Wednesday the cycle of the numbered propers is interrupted, and the set of readings on page 458 for “The Week of the beginning of Lent” are used.
The Collect
The Proper Prayers for the Last Sunday after Epiphany are those of the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord (p. 418). However, the key to why we read the Gospels of the Transfiguration on the Sunday before the beginning of Lent is found not in this collect but in that for the Second Sunday of Lent:
Almighty God, whose Son was revealed in majesty before he suffered death upon the cross, give us faith to perceive his glory, that being strengthened by his grace, we may be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory ….
The Readings
First Reading : Exodus 34.29-35
The Lord summoned Moses to come Mount Sinai with two tablets of stone to replace the two that he had broken in his anger over the Israelites’ worship of the Golden Calf (32.19). On the new tablets God wrote the words of the covenant that were on the first tablets. This was a renewal of the covenant. Moses was on the mountain with the Lord forty days and neither ate nor drank. When he came down his face shone, or better, was radiant. After long conversation with the Lord, his flesh, as well as his soul, was penetrated with the effulgence of the Divine glory, and his looks expressed the light and life which dwelt within that glory.
The commentary of Rashi explains that the Hebrew word translated ‘shone’ (קָרַן) is ‘an expression meaning horns (קַרְנַיִם) because light radiates and protrudes like a type of horn.’ It was rendered in the Vulgate quite literally as cornuta, ‘horned’; because of this, Moses was represented in art, most famously in the statue by Michelangelo, with two large horns on his head, The commentator Adam Clarke noted sensibly enough, “But we might naturally ask, while they were indulging themselves in such fancies, why only two horns? for it is very likely that there were hundreds of these radiations, proceeding at once from the face of Moses.” For further discussion of this point, see the RCL site.
Because of the radiance of his face, Moses had to wear a veil when he came from the divine presence to speak to the people of Israel. St Paul’s understanding of this is heard in the epistle reading from 2 Corinthians,
Read this Sunday, Moses’ radiant face is a type or foreshadowing of the transfiguration of Jesus.
Psalm 99
Psalms 47, 93, and 96-99 are usually classed as enthronement hymns, celebrating the Lord’s kingship over Israel and al the world. The Norwegian scholar Sigmund Mowinckel (1884-1965) postulated that at an annual New Year’s festival celebrated in Sept.-Oct. the ancient Israelites celebrated “a ritual enthronement of YHWH, in which his dominion over the world was proclaimed and cultically renewed” [NJBC]. The sections of the psalm are marked by a refrain “for he is the Holy One” at the end of verses 3, 5, and 9.
Outline: vv.1-3: The Lord is the ruler over all the earth; vv. 4-5: God’s concern for justice; vv. 6-9: his fidelity toward his people.
in v. 1 ‘people’ should be ‘peoples’; it refers to the nations of the earth, and not only to the people of Israel.
In v.6, Moses, Aaron, and Samuel are mentioned as intercessors for the people before God.
1n v. 7, ‘He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud’ foreshadows the voice of the Father speaking at the Transfiguration.
In v. 8 ,‘forgiving God’, God translated he Hebrew El. See the RCL notes.
The Epistle: 2 Corinthians 3.12-4.2
In 2 Corinthians 3.7-4.6, Paul highlights the characteristics of his ministry as an apostle by contrating it with that of Moses in Exodus 34.27-35 (see first reading); the ministry of the gospel has a greater splendour than that of Moses (3.7-8). Moreover, in the preaching of the Apostles, this splendur is not hidden, as it ws by the veil that covered Moses’ face.
I ran out of time before I could organize any further remarks on this reading. You mght want to ceck the RCL comments.
The Holy Gospel: Luke 9: 28-36 (37-43)
After Peter’s confession (9.18-20), Jesus predicted his coming Passion(21-22) and declared that anyone who would follow him must give up life for Jesus’ sake, taking up the cross daily (23-27). About a week later, he went alone with Peter james and John, always the inmost group of the disciples, up to ‘the mountain’ to pray. It was while he was praying that he was transfigured before them. The parallel accounts of the transfiguration are Mt 17.1-7 and Mk 9.2-8
St Luke does not say where this event took place, but it is noteworthy that he speaks of ‘the mountain’ and not ‘a mountain’. NJBC takes this as referring to ‘God’s mountin’ and says nothing else. Caird, in the Penguin Commentary on Luke, notes that Matthew and Mark place the preceding scene in the vicinity of Caesarea Philippi, which is near Mt Hermon, and suggests that this is the site of the Transfiguration. Tradition, however, places the site at Mt Tabor in Galilee (but NJBC calls this identification ‘highly unlikely’).
All three accounts tell of the Transfiguration immediately after Jesus’ call to the way of the Cross and the strange promise that God’s kingdom would be seen before “some standing here” will “taste death” (9. 27 and parallels). That we are meant to read of the Transfiguration in the light of these teachings is clear from “after these sayings” in verse 28. The NJBC notes that Jesus teaching in 9.22-27 “is so different from what he had taught in 4.19-9.6 that it needs divine sanction. The disciples are commanded by God to listen to this new teaching.”
The appearance of Moses and Elijah is to show that the road upon which Jesus is embarking is in accord with the law and the prophets (24.26-7). So St John Dascene wrote that the two men appeared so “that it might be shown there was but one Lord of the new and old covenant, and the mouths of heretics might be shut, and men might believe in the resurrection, and He also, who was transfigured, be believed to be the Lord of the living and the dead, Moses and Elias, as servants, stand by their Lord in His glory” St John Chrysostom wrote “Or else this took place because the multitude said He was Elijah or Jeremiah, to show the distinction between our Lord and His servants. And to make it plain that He was not an enemy of God, and transgressor of the law, He showed these two standing by Him; (for else, Moses the lawgiver, and Elias who was zealous for the glory of God, had not stood by Him,) but also to give testimony to the virtues of the men. For each had ofttimes exposed Himself to death in keeping the divine commands.”
Only St Luke mentions what Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were talking about: his coming departure in Jersualem (see also 9:51). But St Luke uses the word exodus here: it refers to the next phase of Jesus’ ministry, his journey to Jersualem and hs passage from this world to God, That word exodus is the clue. As the first Exodus was the passage of Israel from Egypt to the promised Land and the house of God which was eventually built in Jerusalem (see Ps 78.54), so Christ’s deatha nd resurrection is the true Exodus into God’s presence.
Time does no tpermit me to go into any further detail and discuss such important points as the meaning of the Cloud which overshadowed them (on which it would be helpful to recall the account of the Ascension) or Peter’s naïve desire to build three tabernacles. Just two points in closing.
One is a comment from St Ambrose of Milan on the mysticla meaning of the Transfiguration of Christ, “since he who hears the words of Christ, and believes, shall see the glory of His resurrection. For, on the eighth day the resurrection took place. Hence also several Psalms are written, ‘for the eighth,’ or perhaps it was that He might make manifest what He had said, that he who for the word of God shall lose his own life, shall save it, seeing that He will make good His promises at the resurrection.”
The other is to wonder why the lectionary permits the Gospel reading to be extended to include verses 37-43, unless it is to remind us first, that when we come down from mystical “mountaintop” experiences, it is to a world in need of healing and service and second, that as disciples we can not heal or serve by any power of our own, but only by that of the Lord Jesus...
The Revised Common Lectionary notes obect that if the reading extends to the end of v. 43, it ends in the middle of a sentence. It should probably end at the words, ‘at the majesty of God.’

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