by David Perril
The transfiguration appears twice in our lectionary, today as we consider the divinity of Jesus, and later in the year, on August 6th, when we consider his glory.
Today, the Sunday next before Lent, in our reading from Mark’s gospel we have a vivid description of the transfiguration of Jesus before Peter, James & John at the top of Mount Tabor, described with the words “and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.”
No wonder Peter, James, and John were terrified. This was both literally and figuratively a “mountain-top experience.” And as if that vision wasn’t enough, when it was over a cloud began to overshadow the mountain. The damp air closed in, and it seemed as though the whole world had slipped into darkness. They heard the voice of God echoing around them saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
Glowing face and clothes, visits from famous figures of the past, hovering clouds and heavenly voices… whatever would Peter, James & John have made of that incident. It was so extraordinary that when it was all over, and they were heading back down the mountain, Jesus told them to “tell no one about what they had seen.” That probably made total sense. Who would have believed it anyway?
There are some words which only seem applicable to our life here in church, words that don’t have much to do with our every day life, and I would hazard a guess that the word “transfigure” is not part of your regular daily vocabulary. After a mornings shopping, or cooking or digging in the garden, we are not likely to say “ Well that was certainly transfiguring !” We don’t meet our friends and say, “Hello, you’re looking transfigured today !” It is a word reserved for use in very extraordinary circumstances.
So what can we say about this event ? What really happened that day & why did it happen? – it is recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, & Luke, but they were not there that day on the mountain – Jesus was with Peter James and John. As we move on from Epiphany, the season of growth that followed the joy of Christmas will soon become the sombre, purple, season of Lent, as we prepare ourselves for the journey through Holy Week to the death of Jesus on Good Friday. But we end the season of Epiphany with this special moment of Transfiguration, the transformation of Jesus into an exalted being.
There on the mountain top with the disciples, Jesus was somehow transformed, changed to such an extent that he didn’t look the same as he usually did. On the mountain that day Jesus appeared somehow different, not entirely human anymore, but shining with the light and beauty and glory of God. Jesus appeared Divine. Perhaps we should say that He was not so much changed as revealed, revealed to be who he really was, – the Beloved Son of God. Shining with a divine light and radiating the brilliance of that light. For Jesus to be transfigured was for him to be appearing for the first time as who he really was, The beloved Son of God.
Now, there was a sign, confirmation if you like, that from this day on Jesus would appear as his true self. A veil had fallen from Jesus, Peter James and John now quite literally could see him in a new light. They now saw that Jesus wasn’t just a preacher or teacher, not just a leader. He was no longer just Jesus of Nazareth, a veil had been removed, but not just from Jesus, it is also important for us to see that a veil had also fallen from Peter James and John. They now began to realise just how different they were from Jesus.
Their vulnerability was exposed, For one brief shining moment God had somehow opened a window and they had seen how history would evolve. both their own future and that of the whole world, And they would never be the same again after that moment.
Because the Transfiguration was so bizarre and other worldly, it can be easy to assume that we are supposed to approach it with awe & a kind of sober reverence, and of course there is an element of truth in that – it was indeed a momentous occasion for Jesus & the disciples. But we should also see it as a moment of joy, because for God, the Transfiguration presented an opportunity to declare to the world his love for Jesus. “This is my Son, the beloved.”
It won’t have escaped your attention that today is Valentine’s Day, a day when undying love is expressed in the form of sweet smelling roses, cards written in poetic language, and the occasional diamond ring.
Do you know the story of the chicken & the pig ? – A chicken & a pig were walking down the high street, (as they do), they were walking past a cafe advertising “Egg & Bacon Served All Day” The chicken said to the pig “I don’t like this place”, the pig replied “neither do I, but for you it’s an offering, for me it’s a sacrifice” !
That is the difference between the love expressed between lovers on Valentine’s Day, & the sacrificial love for God expressed by St Valentine at his martyrdom under the Emperor Claudius, & the love of God for his Son, for us, & the created world. God’s love is sacrificial, & that is what we celebrate today. At the Transfiguration we are privileged to be in the presence of that all embracing love of God. The awesome imagery of the transfiguration, frightening as it may have been for the disciples, does not just portray an image of intimidating majesty. It is also a scene of tender holiness, a reminder to us all that holiness is a characteristic of God that is shared.
God loves, God interacts, God’s holiness expresses itself in self-giving, sacrificial love. We should take delight in Jesus as God does. As God expressed his delight in Jesus through the transfiguration, so should we as we gain more insight into the divinity of Jesus.
That day at the top of mount Tabor Peter, James, and John found themselves on holy ground, in privileged company as Jesus appeared alongside those two great prophets Moses and Elijah.
In the Old Testament those ancient prophets had both shared a moment of striking intimacy with God. When one is so close to God, everything changes, impossibilities fade away. Both prophets, like Jesus, laboured to help the people of God remain faithful in the face of temptation. They all sought to keep the people of God hopeful as they journeyed through the burdens of life.
Moses’ and Elijah’s closeness to God wasn’t something to be kept to themselves, it energized them & motivated them in their service to others, equipping them to know and follow the way of God. At the Transfiguration, Jesus stood in impressive company, sharing the moment with two others who knew what it was to be in close communion with God.
The dazzling light of the Transfiguration stands as a beacon that shines ahead of us into Lent to keep that season in perspective, penitential yes, but never without hope.
A light of promise that God is here, that God is knowable, that God seeks relationship. Because God is life, & God is love.
image from © ROOTS for Churches Ltd www.rootsontheweb.com. Reproduced with permission.