- Singing the Faith: 260 (CD11 #10)
- Thomas Troeger
- “Geneva” by George Henry Day
- 87.87.D. (Trochaic)
This is one of just three hymns in Singing the Faith that focus directly on the Transfiguration. Like Thomas Troeger’s other hymn in the collection (As servants working an estate, StF 491), here he contains the biblical story itself to just the first verse, and uses the rest of the hymn to reflect on its meaning.
In this case, he asks what the glimpsed mountain top revelation (Matthew 17: 1–8) will mean in practice for the disciples of Jesus (v.2) and how our own perceptions might be transfigured (v.3).
The three disciples who witness Jesus’ encounter with Moses and Elijah on a mountain side are flummoxed by what they see and can only think to suggest building the three men shelters. But setting up “sacred booths” is not what they are called to, Thomas says. Rather, they are to follow their Saviour “through the valley to the cross” and test “faith’s resilience through betrayal, pain, and loss”. It’s a strikingly succinct summary of all that is to follow in the gospel story.
Thomas follows it up by laying out the implications for us, Christ’s modern-day disciples (v.3). It is our perceptions that need to be transfigured, recasting “our life’s intentions / to the shape of your designs” so that we focus on the resurrection life that the Transfiguration event prefigures.
Also see: Events in Jesus’ Life (Jesus’ Ministry 2)
Many of Troeger’s hymns reflect directly on biblical passages. In an interview with Thomas Troeger in Yale Divinity School News (March 2013), he said: “Yes, my mother read the Bible to me every morning. ‘You need Jesus!’ she would say. She was a strong churchgoer, a probing woman.” (In the evening, he’d sit with his father and listen to Bach, Handel or Haydn. His first career ambition was to be a professional flautist.)
Described in the early 1990s as “probably Americas’ finest living hymnwriter”, Troeger spent nearly 40 years as a teacher of homiletics and “a practitioner of the Christian imagination” (one of his books is titled Imagining a Sermon). He taught at Colgate Rochester Divinity School, Iliff School of Theology in Denver, and – for the final ten years of his career – at Yale Divinity School. He is ordained as a pastor-priest in both the Presbyterian and the American Episcopalian churches and is a past president of the Academy of Homiletics.
His output has been substantial – books on preaching, on how to pray the Psalms, the relationship between yoga and the western prayer tradition, anthems, poems, and aroudn 600 hymn texts. Hymns, he says, are “a way to do theology. . . If you ask people what they’re most likely to remember – a Bible passage, a sermon, or a hymn – which do you think it would be? Surely a hymn!”