Raiment White and Glistening – Br. James Koester

Mark 9: 2 – 9

Recently, I have found myself recalling the fact the first 10, now 11, and soon 12 months have passed, since we closed the guesthouse and then the chapel. You will remember those days I’m sure. We began hearing about this new virus and the reports of mounting deaths Soon we were horrified to discover that it had reached this country. Suddenly there was anxiety about how it spread, and were instructed to suspend various liturgical practices, such as the Common Cup, physically exchanging the Peace, and holy water at the doors of churches. Days after, we announced we were closing the guesthouse. By the end of that week, we closed the chapel. It’s now been almost a year.

Today, nearly half a million people have died from Covid-19 in this country, and almost 2.3 million around the world.[1]

In many ways these last 11 months have been a time of disfiguration, quite literally, as many have been disfigured by disease and death. Some of those who have recovered continue to feel the effects and are living with post-COVID-19 syndrome.[2] They live with chronic difficulties breathing, exhaustion, brain fog, and a loss of taste and smell. No one knows how long these symptoms will last.

This is a time of disfiguration; peoples’ bodies and their health have been disfigured, first by disease, and then in some cases, by death.

If this has been a time of disfiguration in terms of the health of our body, it has also been a time of disfiguration in terms of the health of our body politic. Around us we see the of effects of systemic racism, and the lingering consequences of slavery. We have seen our government literally assaulted, and what happens when civil discourse is replaced by lies, corruption, and self-interest; where compromise and negotiation are seen as signs of weakness; and schools, churches, and business shuttered, and national economies shrink, leaving behind economic and social problems that will require years to heal and repair.

Just as bodies have been disfigured by disease and death, so too has the body politic been disfigured. If the aftereffects of Covid-19 last, so too will the aftereffects of this time of disfiguration last, on our body politic.

We too have been disfigured. In an instant, life was turned upside down. The closing of the guesthouse and chapel have had a profound impact on you, who would normally be seated here in this chapel, rather than at home, watching online. Our community life has been radically altered. While we have all remained healthy, the impact of the lockdown on a community that was never intended to be enclosed, is having a profound effect. Like you, we are discovering our need for human contact, and the context of a larger community of friends, family, and sisters and brothers in Christ. We miss the company of women, which our Rule speaks of when it says, [we] also have opportunities to make friends outside the community. Friends of different ages, cultures and walks of life will enrich our humanity. We value the gift of friendship with women, as Jesus did; without it we run the risk of spiritual and personal impoverishment.[3]

Like you, this time of lockdown is holding a mirror before us and is revealing both our strengths, and our weaknesses. Whenever, God-willing, this time of disfiguration ends, we will be different, and will do things differently. What that will look like is anyone’s guess. I would hazard to say, the same is true for all of you, who are sharing in this worship virtually.

This is a season of disfiguration. Yet it is also a time of hope.

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.[4]

Just a few weeks ago we celebrated the Feast of the Incarnation, during Christmas, when we remembered God’s great act of divine self-emptying. In that great mystery, we recall that in the person of Jesus, God broke all the limits of generosity in the incarnation of the Son for our sake, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”[5]

John’s gospel reminds us that the Word became flesh and lived among us.[6] In this act of enfleshment, God did much more than simply take on a human body. He took on our limitations, our finitude, even our disfiguration. In the incarnation, God submitted to death, disease, and loss; pain, grief, and sorrow; boredom, loneliness, and fatigue; worry, anxiety, and disquiet. God took all this on in the person of Jesus, and that is a thing full of wonder.

St. Gregory of Nazianzus[7] remind us that which God has assumed, God has healed; that which is united to God, is also saved.[8]

Today we find ourselves in a time of disfiguration, and the message of Christmas is that God has been here before us. The message of the Transfiguration is that God has transfigured what in us has been disfigured.

The good news of the gospel of the Transfiguration is not that some mystical experience happened long ago on a mountaintop far away, to someone not even remotely like us, who was simply pretending to be human. The good news of the gospel of the Transfiguration is that in Jesus, God has taken all that is disfigured, diseased, and dying and has transfigured it with the light of divine glory.

Even now in a world gripped by pain, loss, and grief, the light of God’s glory is breaking through. As St. Paul reminds us just a few verses before today’s epistle: all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another….[9]

If the Transfiguration has anything to say to us today, it is that.

We may be tempted to see only disfiguration as we look out at the world, or on our own lives now, but that is not the whole truth. It is only part of the truth. The whole truth is that which God has assumed, God has healed. The whole truth is that in the Transfiguration the disfiguration of the world and of our own lives is being changed into glory.

It may not seem so now, but to use Father Benson’s image of the sunrise, we must look for the development of the life of Christ within us. Each communion should be, as it were, adding some fresh point to the image of Christ within our souls. As each touch of the artist adds some fresh feature to the painting, so each communion is a touch of Christ, which should develop some fresh feature of His own perfect likeness within us. And it is not that it does this merely in some one direction, but as each moment of the morning adds imperceptibly a fresh glow to the whole illuminated hemisphere, so each communion imperceptibly should add a fresh glow, a fresh brightness, a fresh colouring to the sphere of the soul which it penetrates; the whole nature should assume a fresh glory with each communion. As the form and colour of the landscape come out with the sun’s advance, so with each communion the form and colour of our spiritual life, not merely in this or that particular, but in all its complex bearings of form and colour, is to stand out with greater clearness and beauty, each communion bringing its own fresh illumination, and perfecting us in the glory of the Sun of righteousness.[10]

You may not be able to receive the Sacrament at this time, but that does not mean God is not at work, transforming and transfiguring your life. Because we have been united to Christ through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, we have put on the Lord Jesus Christ.[11] If we have put on Christ, then Christ, who has taken on our disfigured human nature, is transfiguring it into raiment white and glistening.[12]

So, take heart. God in the person of Jesus has been here before us, and even now is transforming and transfiguring the world, and making it new once more, and that includes, even you.

Lectionary Year and Proper: Year B, The Last Sunday after the Epiphany

[1] https://www.google.com/search?q=covid+deaths+in+us&rlz=1C1GCEA_enUS907US907&oq=covid+de&aqs=chrome.1.0i433l2j69i57j0i433j0i433i457j0i402l2j0j0i433j0.9376j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8 downloaded 14 February 2021.

[2] https://www.google.com/search?q=post+covid+syndrome&rlz=1C1GCEA_enUS907US907&oq=post+covid&aqs=chrome.1.0i433l4j0i131i433j0i433j0l3j0i433.9287j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8 downloaded 14 February 2021.


[3] SSJE, Rule of Life, The Graces of Friendship, chapter 42, page XX

[4] Mark 9: 2 – 3

[5] Op. cit., The Spirit of Poverty, chapter 6, page XX

[6] John 1: 14

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregory_of_Nazianzus downloaded 14 February 2021.

[8] https://tasbeha.org/community/discussion/13128/on-the-incarnation-st-athanasius downloaded 14 February 2021.

[9] 2 Corinthians 3: 18

[10] Benson, Richard Meux, The Religious Vocation: Of Communion, chapter 12, page 160-161

[11] Romans 13: 14

[12] Luke 9: 29 King James Version

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  1. Marilyn Bergen on January 16, 2024 at 15:03

    Br James, Thank you for your wise words that ring true today. The start of the election year, the war in Gaza and elsewhere with no end in sight is cause for serious concern. But our God is aware of all and we must trust in his faithfulness to his people. I do trust and place my hope anew in our God. My thanks.

  2. Jan on January 16, 2024 at 11:47

    Thank you Br. James for the beautiful message! As I look out the window on this cold winter morning the sun is surrounded by a beautiful rainbow 🌈 or maybe more precisely a sun dog, this is how I envision the development of the life of Christ within us as a bright and shining new thing, something that we should let shine within us and not hide away only for ourselves to enjoy.
    It has been almost two years since you wrote this message and yet we are still dealing with many of the same problems you have mentioned but I find comfort in your message of hope and in the sheer beauty of God’s wondrous creation. Thank you 🙏!

  3. Mary Naumann on January 16, 2024 at 09:41

    I will save this as a reminder whenever times seem bleak. So uplifting. Thank you. Mary

  4. Bill Palmer on January 16, 2024 at 09:22

    Some mornings as I read these reflections, I feel that the words are personally directed at me. As a first responder during the worst months of the COVID plague, I saw the disfigurement and destruction of human lives by disease. What’s worse has been to witness the disfigurement that the stirring up of fear and hatred have brought. Thank you, Br. James, for helping me to catch a glimpse of divine glory. Your words have been healing to me.

  5. Bobbi on February 4, 2022 at 13:36

    Thank you, Br. James, for lifting us from this disfigured world of Covid, winter storms, and the current body politic toward a transfigured world of faith, hope, and love. I am grateful to join the SSJE community, for we can’t do this alone.

  6. Fr Harold L. Trott, SSC on February 20, 2021 at 12:00

    Thank you so very much for the beautiful quotation from
    Fr Benson.

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