The Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ - 6th August 2021
The transfiguration is a very important feast for eastern Christians, more so than in the west. They see it as a feast that shows us the core of our calling. Each one of us is called to be transfigured by the presence of God in our hearts. The world of icons shows us this world transfigured in the face of Jesus Christ, and in the faces of all the saints. They are illumined by an inner light. We too are called to be numbered amongst those saints.
From the Gospel according to Mark, chapter 9:
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. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
Why Elijah with Moses? Clearly they represent the law and the prophets, but I am curious about what else they have in common. Both of them encountered God on mountain tops and in wild places, away from any place of formal religious practice. Moses’ first encounter was in the burning bush, a mysterious and formless sight but he knew it was the presence of God. Later he encountered God in the cloud, flame and thunder at the top of mount Sinai. The people were told not to approach. God was dangerous and might break out and kill them if they came too close. Only Moses could come near, although even he could only see God’s back. But this dangerous and transcendent God also spoke to Moses face to face, already he was coming close to human beings.
Elijah did not hear the Lord in the earthquake, wind and fire but in the “sound of sheer silence”. Here it seems that God has come closer, no longer encountered in dramatic manifestations but in a silence that calls forth a deep attentiveness in Elijah. But still God is not seen. He is a mysterious presence that speaks through the silence for those with ears to hear.
In the transfiguration of Jesus again the natural world was seen transfigured, radiating the presence of God. But this time God in human form. God speaks from heaven: “This is my son, the beloved, listen to him”. Finally God has come so close to us that he is one of us and can be met, touched and heard with the earthly senses of the disciples. But many met Jesus and did not see God, and indeed the disciples had to journey with him for some time to begin to see. It is interesting that this event in all three synoptic gospels comes shortly after Peter’s recognition of Jesus as the messiah. His disciples are beginning to get some idea of who it is that they are following.
Jesus then teaches them about how he must suffer and die, and that his followers too must deny themselves and take up their crosses. Only after this hard and incomprehensible teaching does he reveal his glory to his closest disciples. To understand their messiah they must hold the suffering and the glory side by side. Ultimately they must see God’s glory in the humiliation and suffering of Jesus’ crucifixion. John’s gospel does not have an account of the mountain-top transfiguration bur rather the whole gospel is shot through with the revelation of God’s glory in the life of Jesus, culminating in his crucifixion. The light of Christ shines in the deepest and darkest of places, transfiguring them and showing forth God’s glory.
One thing that this event of the transfiguration of Jesus shows us is the value of material reality. It is not an illusion to be discarded when we become enlightened but it is the reality that manifests God’s presence. God is seen in and through our physical world. Our call as Christians is to live fully engaged in this world that God has given us, but fully aware too of the life of eternity, that other realm which is beyond the material yet interpenetrates and shines through. Jesus’ death is where God takes on the full implications of our flesh, and shows us the way of total engagement with that reality. None of us is exempt from the sufferings of our flesh. It is as we accept and live through our suffering and face the reality of physical death that the light of Christ shines in our hearts and transfigures us and the world around us. We come to know a deep intimacy with the risen Jesus that roots us in the life of eternity whilst living fully the human life that is given us on this earth. The transfiguration of our human flesh in the life of Jesus has changed the world.
As our hymn for Apostles in Eastertide proclaims:
know where God is to be found,
In Jesus, risen Lord,
Upon an earth transfigured
By the feet of God,
Mother Anne - 6th August 2021