Sometimes it really is for the birds. 

Swallows and sparrows are on the side of nurture,

    in the Psalter making their nests by the side of God's altars.

And maybe, as our prayer book suggests, teaching begins with nurture:

nourishing God's people from the riches of God's grace. 


6 August 2017 | The Feast of the Transfiguration: Luke 9:28-36 | star rise
Lauren Flowers Byrd+

The second letter of Peter tells us the transfiguration of Jesus on a mountain before [Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 4.25.24 PM] chosen witnesses is a moment you need to remember. You do well, this ancient letter advises, to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

And so today, on the feast thereof, we remember how Jesus went up a mountain with Peter, John, and James; how his clothes turned white; how he spoke with Moses and Elijah, and how when Peter suggested making three booths, a cloud overshadowed the witnesses and a voice said, This is my son, my chosen, listen to him.

Though we remember the Transfiguration on Sunday every year just before Lent, its actual feast day falls always on August 6th, which means it hardly ever falls on a Sunday. This lends a kind of once-in-a-blue-moon backdrop to a story that already has cosmic force. Another starry addition to our Gospel today is the coming solar eclipse on August 21, when the shadow of the moon will roll across fourteen states. They’re calling it the Totality Path, and I’m pretty sure most everyone preaching on the Transfiguration today will find room to mention it.  

It’s due to be visible in Oregon at 10: 16 a.m., and will end its course in Charleston at 2:48 in the afternoon. Though we’ll only witness a partial eclipse here in Savannah, I’m told 12 million people have a chance at experiencing its totality without ever leaving home.[1] And for those who do leave home, communities are preparing viewing stations where thousands will gather. They’ll pitch a lawn chair, peer into the heavens for a bit, and head home.

What you hope for in that brief outdoor moment is to hear the world hold its breath in wonder. Silence, though, is hard to come by in a crowd. And strangely, the cows want no part of it. When the moon crosses between the earth and the sun, history has it they head for the barn, while crickets have been known to break out in shrill choruses.[2] I’m guessing they know cosmic disruption for a fearful thing, and know what it is to feel helpless before something bigger than they are, something they cannot control.

We know that feeling. Whenever we look up – whether at the sky or in prayer – we tend to look up in hope, sometimes fearsome hope. Very often we come to prayer through some sort of danger or threat, absent any preparation at all. Sometimes in those places, we look up hoping for a way out of trouble or pain or loss. And sometimes we look up for a way in, for deeper engagement or understanding.

Traditionally people also bring a sense of imminent peril or doom to cosmic events. Some imagine the world coming to an end. Apocalypse. Others only worry their eyesight may be ruined. In the words of one astronomer, You have to be ready when totality hits because you can’t stop the moon. [3]

Also beyond our control, the totality of God surrounds us. And in Christ does not intend to eclipse the extraordinary gift of time with doom. At least not in the Gospel according to Luke. There, Jesus stands on the side of tenderness toward the sick, the friendless, the broken-hearted; on the side of sharing what we have with those who need it; on the side of your goodness unfolding here and now in earthly hours.

Luke is the only evangelist who remembers what Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were talking about that day on the mountain. Departure. They were talking about the coming departure of Jesus in Jerusalem. Not the exit sort of departure, not a way out. Instead they were talking about exodus: about a way in. The kind of departure that calls you to listen to what God is telling you and to live what God asks of you.

Exodus is no exit. As Moses knows, exodus is deliverance and freedom. It’s not about leaving people. It’s about setting them free. It’s not about cursing or regretting what’s behind you as much as it is embracing what is and will be.

Notably in Luke’s telling, Moses and Elijah shine with glory. He’s the only evangelist who remembers it that way. Who remembers Christ’s glory as a shared gift, luminous like starlight. His glory shining on theirs, their glory shining on his.

Also in Luke’s gospel, when the cloud comes and God speaks, Peter, John, and James remain on their feet. Tired, yes, but still standing. Matthew remembers them falling down and covering their eyes. For Luke there is no falling down or looking away. There’s only seeing Jesus for who he is, and on your feet discerning what next. They weren’t prepared. But they’d seen his glory, and knew there was no stopping him.

It wasn’t an exit door they moved toward. In him, there was no way out. In Christ, there was only the way in, to our living and our dying. He moved them toward the love of God. And as they followed him down the mountain that day, he led them toward deeper engagement with other people. He led them toward losing his life that they might lose their own in his name and find it.

Remembering this moment today should make us all run for the barn. Instead we’re here to remember Jesus descending that holy mountain. And to remember how his chosen friends followed him, chewing over the reality that God had not only spoken about his chosen Son, but had also spoken to them. God spoke to them.

Listen. Listen. Listen.


[1] The Week, Staff, “The Great Solar Eclipse of 2017,” The Week, 5 August 2017/

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.