PĄCZKI AND TRANSFIGURATION – Transfiguration Sunday, Year A; Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (RC)

February 19, 2023

Revised Common Lectionary
Exodus 24:12-18
Psalm 2 or Psalm 99
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:21-29

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18
Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13 (8a)
1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Matthew 5:38-48

My grandparents came to this country from Poland more than 100 years ago, and like immigrants from all over the world, they brought along their religious practices and customs. One custom that Polish Americans have introduced to the wider community in the United States is eating pączki (POONCH-key) during the week before Lent begins. Pączki are a lot like jelly doughnuts – warm fried dough that’s filled and then rolled in sugar. People will enjoy this treat over these next few days in the same spirit as participants engage in Mardi Gras in New Orleans or Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.

I couldn’t help thinking about pączki, Mardi Gras, and Carnival as we hear and reflect on the Transfiguration of Jesus on this last Sunday before Lent begins. The various over-the-top customs being celebrated during these days before Ash Wednesday offer people an experience of sumptuousness, delight, or fun before they embark on a time of fasting, penance, and reflection. In the same way, the Transfiguration of Jesus offers the disciples a taste of Jesus’ glory before they set out for Jerusalem where he will endure his suffering and death.

The Gospel writers treat the Transfiguration as a key event in the life of Jesus as he makes his journey to the cross and resurrection. We might ask what difference the Transfiguration makes for us twenty-first century disciples. I want to suggest three ways that this story is relevant for living our faith today.

First, the Transfiguration is an epiphany, or manifestation, of Christ’s glory. And so today we might ask what moments of Transfiguration we have experienced in our own lives. When have we gotten a glimpse of glory or suddenly had an opportunity to view things in a whole new way? When have we realized, perhaps in retrospect, that in some ordinary event or person or place, we were experiencing God’s glory shining through?

Sometimes we’re a lot like Peter, too busy or too focused on something else – like building dwellings – to notice that God is right here speaking and acting in our lives, offering us a hint of glory right now. The Transfiguration invites us to keep still, to watch, to listen, to pay attention to the unexpected ways that God is being revealed to us in this moment or to past experiences in which we may have unknowingly seen God acting.

Secondly, every time we gather for worship, God is giving us a glimpse of Christ’s glory. Jesus has assured us that he is with us: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Mt 18:20). When we open the scriptures to read and reflect together, it is Jesus himself who speaks just as he did to the disciples on the mountain with Moses and Elijah at his side. And when we come to the table, we recognize him in the breaking of bread, just like the two disciples who met him on the road to Emmaus.

Finally, I would like to return to the idea that remembering the Transfiguration on this Sunday before Lent begins is a lot like enjoying pączki or celebrating Mardi Gras. In the Gospels Jesus sets out from the mount of Transfiguration and makes his way to Jerusalem where he will face his death and be raised to life. After this Sunday we too will go down from this mountain of Transfiguration, ready to join Jesus in the desert for forty days of Lent – a time of fasting, prayer, and doing the works of charity and justice.

Today let us enjoy the pączki, Mardi Gras, or other ways of celebrating. Let us join Peter, James, and John to behold the glory, to hear the voice from the cloud, and to listen intently to God’s Beloved Child. Let us hold fast to the visions of glory we have seen in our own lives. Let us enter into this coming Lenten season with open hearts and a thirst to be one with Christ who gave himself up to death and journey with him to the font where we have died with him so that we might walk in newness of life.

A Hymn for Today: “Dazzling Presence on the Mountain”

This text by Lutheran Pastor Paul E. Hoffman has been set to music by composer and music professor Karen E. Black. Hoffman’s text and Black’s tune are included together in All Creation Sings, the most recent worship supplement of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Both the text and the music express not only the glory revealed in the Transfiguration, but the relationship of this event to Christ’s life-giving death and to the new creation that he inaugurated through his life and ministry. Listen here to an arrangement of this hymn for congregation, choir, organ, and brass.

Dazzling presence on the mountain:
human eye had never seen
such a wonder, such resplendence,
heav’n and earth in cloud convene.
“This is my Son, the beloved,”
thund’rous voice from cloud exclaimed.
Word made flesh to heal creation,
to disciples God proclaimed.

From this mount of mystic splendor
to the cross Christ presses on;
here no Moses nor Elijah,
only thieves Christ’s wings adorn.
“Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy,”
was one’s penitential sigh.
With transfiguring assurance,
Christ rejoins his fervent cry.

From the heights of new creation,
Christ beholds his world, redeemed;
as with Peter and companions,
brings us now to sights unseen.
Justice, mercy, and compassion:
these the booths he bids us build,
that the earth he loves may flourish
as each life with grace is filled.

Let our praise ring from each mountain,
into deepest valleys pour
where, with lives of grateful service,
we adore Christ evermore.
To the Son, God’s own beloved,
and the Spirit endlessly,
may the church’s praise be lifted
to the blessed Trinity.

Text: Paul E. Hoffman, b. 1956. © 2015, Augsburg Fortress. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857

Image Credit: Transfiguration, Kelly Latimore, 2014

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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