Perhaps the only thing more memorable than driving over the Golden Gate Bridge may be to pass under it on an ocean-going ship. I was lucky enough to have that experience five times before I was a teenager.
Many of us assume the name for this bridge is related to its warm color. But the name comes from the ocean straight over which it stands, and not from the Gold Rush. Rather than mimicking gold, the bridge’s official color—“International Orange”—was chosen to contrast with fog. A story is told about when that color was first applied. Painters dabbed splotches of it on the heads of curious seagulls. Pretty soon, Bay Area birdwatchers reported a new bird species, which was called the California Red-Headed seagull!
Until 1964, the Golden Gate Bridge had the longest main span in the world. Yet, its basic design isn’t unique. We know this from other suspension bridges, which are found all over the world. Bridges of this kind have two main towers, steadied in place by their suspension cables, which are anchored in the ground. From their anchor points, these substantial cables ascend to the top of the towers, and then gently descend again to the center of the bridge. From that low point, they again soar up, to the top of the opposite tower. The slightly arched roadway across is literally suspended from these main cables, by small support cables that hang from them. Here, in the beauty of this simple design, we find a helpful spiritual and liturgical metaphor.
Reflect for a moment about two significant Sundays in the church year. One is the last Sunday after Epiphany, or Transfiguration Sunday, which we observed 10 days ago. The other is Easter Day, which lies ahead. Transfiguration Sunday is the last Sunday before this season of Lent, and Easter Day is the first Sunday after Lent. Both Sundays are as important with regard to our identity as they are to that of Jesus. For in his Transfiguration and in his Resurrection, Jesus does not simply reveal who he really is. He also reveals the fulfillment of our vocation to be fully human, in him.
Imagine these two Sundays on the Church calendar as being like the two towers of the Golden Gate Bridge. Transfiguration Sunday, coming just before Lent, is like the south tower of the Golden Gate bridge, on the busy urban, San Francisco, side of the straight. And, Easter Sunday is like the north tower of that bridge, on the less familiar and historically rural side of that navigational channel. The season of Lent stretches between these two Sundays like the main span of that bridge, taking us from what we think we know to that which may yet to be disclosed to us.
Here is the crucial part ~ every year we need to make this liturgical crossing, from our sharing in the vision of the Transfiguration, to our participation in the joy of Easter Resurrection. And like the great towers of a suspension bridge, Transfiguration Sunday and Easter Sunday uphold us all the way across our Lenten journey over what sometimes may seem like dark, cold, and turbulent waters around us.
This posting is a revised version of a post I first published in 2017, and is based on my recent homily for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, which explores the parallel between the revelation of glory that we see in the Transfiguration, and the glory we see in the Resurrection (click here for a link to it).
Stephen, thanks for this meaningful meditation. Speaking of suspension bridges, reading this reminded me of reading David McCullough’s book about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, which at the time it was built, was the longest suspension bridge in the world. I learned much about suspension bridges from reading that book.
Thank you for your thoughtful comment. McCullough’s book about the Brooklyn Bridge will now go on my ‘to read’ list!