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Christ's Trans Moment

Katie Omberg
Sun, Nov 15

Texts: Mark 9:2-9

We walked out of St Paul’s cathedral, tramping through the newly formed rain puddles, and gathered in a loose circle on Boston Common. Each of us held a candle with a name, an age, and a location on it. As the people with the microphone went around the circle, we each read the name on the candle we held; the name of a transgender person who had been murdered in the last year. This was my first Trans Day of Remembrance, here in Boston, in 2013.

Each year, cities around the word hold vigils for the Trans Day of Remembrance, a vigil that centers around the reading of the names and the lighting of the candles. TDOR started in 1998, when Rita Hester, a  Black trans woman, was stabbed to death in her Boston apartment, and the community gathered in a candlelight vigil in Allston in her memory. In 2013, a report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence programs reported that 72% of hate crimes against LGBTQ people were against trans women, and that 90% of these hate crimes were against trans women of color. Doing the math, this means that 65% of all hate crimes against LGBTQ people happen against TWOC. Next week I, and I’m sure some others of us here in this sanctuary, will be returning to St. Paul’s, to read the names of 271 people killed this year, for living. This is not the trans people who kill themselves, mind you, which would add unknown hundreds more to this list, but those who are killed by other people. It is for these people that we will light candles, 271 of them, for each individual who has been extinguished by hate.

These hundreds of tea lights in the rainy Common bring me to the Gospel reading for today, the story of the Transfiguration. [Now, there is a Transfiguration Sunday in the liturgical calendar, Aug. 6, and so it’s a little out of sync to be listening for God’s truth in this text today. And yet, when I was finding a text to speak to the lives of trans people, this is what I kept returning to. Yes, the whole “TRANSfiguration” and “TRANSgender” connection is there, but it’s more what happened at the transfiguration that brings me to it.]

In this story, which we see in three of the four Gospels, Jesus invites three of his closest companions, Peter, James and John to a mountain, to be “apart, by themselves.” It is here that Jesus is transformed. And he is not alone- we see in the cloud two other figures conversing with Jesus, Moses and Elijah, two prophets who went before him. Jesus, in this moment of revelation, is accompanied by those who have borne the burden of living out God’s call among people who are not always so happy to hear it. One can read this text as supersessionist, meaning a text that supports Jesus as the only logical conclusion to the Hebrew Scripture, and yet I rather interpret this meeting as Jesus getting support from his forebears. Yes, for those of us of Christian faith Jesus is something new, something else, something divine, and yet he is also the inheritor of the work done by Moses and Elijah. And so, it is with them that he converses in the transfiguration. He is with his people, past and present, remembering those who have gone before in the presence of his current companions.

Peter seems hopeful that this holy event is some sort of new normal, offering to build shelter for Jesus, Moses and Elijah to spend time in. As soon as this offer is made, God speaks from the heavens, a cloud surrounds them, and Jesus is alone. Descending from the mountain, Jesus tells his friends to tell no one about what they have seen, until after he has risen from the dead. Why so much secrecy? Why can they not speak until after he is dead? Why would he request that they be quiet? What is Jesus so….scared of?

Jesus as fully-God and fully-human becomes apparent in the transfiguration, and yet this “Hey, guys, I know I work miracles, but you’re not quite getting it, so I’m gonna make this real clear for you all: I’m God’s son” is not put out for public consumption. Jesus invites only his closest friends with him up on onto the mountain. And then, once he shares with them this part of himself, this part of himself that is inheritor of prophets past and is bedazzled by God’s presence, he has to put it back. Close the clouds. Roll credits. Come back down the mountain, and keep your mouth shut.

It’s not that there wasn’t something clearly going on with Jesus before this moment, but it’s that it was a something that was still in the realm of this world. He has fed thousands, freed people from demon-possession, and cured all sort of ailments. And yet while they might point to something of grander significance, all of these miracles are physical, all these miracles are skin-deep. It’s not that they aren’t valuable or important, but they have been rooted in what one can see, touch, taste- they are rooted in this world. These miracles bring Peter to call Jesus “Rabbi,” teacher, leader, a familiar word of respect and devotion.

The transfiguration is a miracle of another dimension,  where Jesus’ best friends (and us, lucky readers of the story) experience the interior life of Jesus. Contemporary Jesuit writers Fr. Donahue and Harrington write in their commentary on the Gospel of Mark that the transfiguration is less of an epiphany (that is, when God reveals God’s self ) than a christophany, a moment when Christ is revealed. Christ reveals part of his nature to his friends, and is called by something else, something other than Rabbi. He is called by the voice from the heavens, by God, he is called “God’s son,” God’s “beloved.” Yes, Jesus is Rabbi, but Jesus is also God’s son. Jesus is fully that which we can see, and that which we cannot.

And yet, in the transfiguration, the unseeable, unknowable divine-side of Jesus is made visible. His divine nature is represented by the dazzling white clothes and the presence of community members long dead. The word used here, “Transfiguration” is a translation of the Greek word “metamorphos,” which means to change form, to change shape. The transfiguration is a trans moment, a moments of change and revelation, where Jesus’ expression in his body and identity in his mind connect. And while Jesus is transformed, transfigured, metamorphosized into the Christ, he does not allow this moment to exist for ever and ever Amen. No, in this incredible moment, alone on a hill, a place understood by the people to be where heaven and earth elide, where Jesus the Christ is made known with his body as the bridge between seen and unseen...this is a fleeting moment. Mark writes that “suddenly, when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but Jesus.”

The only person they see is Jesus, and the only words they hear from him is to tell no one of what they have seen.

And so I ask again: what was Jesus so afraid of? Because he knew. He knew what happened to people like him, people whose bodies reflect only so much of who they are. The chapter before this one, Jesus asks that world-famous question: “Who do you say that I am?” When Peter replies that he is the Messiah, Jesus freaks: his identity is known, visible to those around him. And if visible to those around him, who else can tell? Who else is catching on? The miracles of physicality and substance were all well and fine, but this bodily transformation? This exposure of luminous, dazzling self? Nah, that’s not going to fly. Get those clothes back to normal, get that heavenly, booming voice to be quiet already.

Rico Leblond, murderer of Zella Ziona, a trans woman of color killed in Montgomery County MD a few weeks ago, killed at a mall I used to hang out at, says he killed her because she was acting too “flamboyant” in front of him and his friends. I remind you, “his clothes were dazzling.” He stood over, once he had shot her, and fired more rounds into her body. When Jesus comes down the mountain, he orders his friends to stay quiet about him, to not let the outside world catch on. He can’t disclose, he can’t come out, for the very real fear of retribution for living.

Recently, when news of the latest murder of a trans woman comes in, it is usually accompanied by a photograph from her facebook or instagram. If you pull out your phones now, you’ll easily be able to find them. These photos are of happy-seeming, gorgeous women, with big hoop earrings, bright smiles, and sometimes shower curtains in the background. In the photos, they are alone. Many seem to be taken in their houses, in typical “bathroom selfie” poses (you know what I mean).

I ask that we look at the transfiguration in the same way, as Jesus as his true self, away from prying eyes, poisoned words, sharpened blades, nails of crucifixion and magazines of bullets.

What would it have been like if Jesus had not been scared? If the women in these photographs could wear whatever they wanted and smile outside of their homes, without fear of retribution for being their true selves? If Jesus had been able to safely invite all onto the mountain to witness the transfiguration?

Jesus’ full humanity is reflected in the transfiguration, he is susceptible to the vulnerabilities and anxieties of being human. The candle here on the table reflects this vulnerability. The candles at TDOR reflect this vulnerability. And Jesus meets us there. Just as the transfiguration brings past prophets to the conversation, this candle brings to mind the candles lit after the Boston Bombing, candles lit in churches across the world in memory of our beloved dead. These candles shine a light in the darkness, a light unmarred by rain, a light unbroken by violence, a light that radiates from Jesus’s sanctified body in the transfiguration. We are asked to see these people as beloved, and to listen to them.

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