|Me and my dad in the background - like father like son!|
The story of the Transfiguration of Jesus is a strange story loaded with imagery from Old and New Testament alike - the action taking place on the mountaintop mirroring the encounter that Moses had on Mount Sainai with God; Moses face shone after talking with God as does Jesus’ here; Jesus’ speaks of His departure, literally his exodus, mirroring the greatest saving act of God leading His people out from slavery in Egypt; the sleeping disciples here points forward to their slumber on the Mount of Olives before Jesus’ arrest and trial; the cloud referencing the way that God Himself led his people through the wilderness; the voice of God identifying Jesus as His Son speaks as it did at His baptism...
We preachers often think that this is an odd and difficult story and yet the oddness is not so odd at all. We’re told that Jesus’ garments shone as bright as lightning and that the appearance of His face changes. How it changes we’re not told. But the disciples experience something different in Jesus - Luke records them seeing His glory, His doxa, something of the majesty, stature and reputation of the creator of the universe is unveiled in those few moments. Something that gives Jesus something intangibly extra... it seems that maybe the true image of God, the image and likeness in which every single one of us is made, is comprehended somehow by them, the Son who is the spitting image of the Father.
The truth is that Jesus did not need visibly to glow to display glory. His glory shone—for those with eyes to see—just as brightly when he talked to lonely prostitutes and outcast lepers, when he saved wayward tax collectors and offered forgiveness to people who had never heard a forgiving syllable their whole lives up to that point. The glory was there, but people, His disciples, failed to see it...
But then we miss seeing it too - in each other - each made in the same image of God as Jesus - as we hustle past people in the supermarket, as we are squashed by them on the train, as we find ourselves furious with them as they cut us up on the motorway, as we insult them, as we put them down or criticise them, as we mark them out as different because of their skin colour, their age, their gender or their sexuality... In those and countless other times we fail to see the image of our Father in their faces. The Glory is still there in the face of all... if only we don’t just sleep through it.
But there is something more going on here than just a revealing of the place which Jesus has in the heart of God and in who’s likeness we are made - whose image we tarnish as we dehumanise our brothers and sisters who as the Psalmist says are made a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honour...
Jesus’ glory, His true true nature is revealed by God, eight days after Peter has confessed Him as the Messiah and Jesus has spoken of His immanent Passion, but also following a time in the presence of God in prayer. There are perhaps here intended subtle references to the Resurrection of Jesus which took place the day after the Passover, the day on which the church traditionally gathers for worship - namely Sunday. As Luke records this event for us I believe he is making a point.
The same Jesus who was transfigured on the mountaintop, is present amongst us as we worship. As Jesus connected intimately with His Father in prayer led to a physical transformation of His very being and a full revealing of His glory, as we worship Christ in this Eucharist - we given a glimpse of His glory in the Words of the Scriptures read, in the Sacraments shared and in each other utterly transformed by His Risen presence.
As the disciples came down from the mountain they told no-one of the all-transforming experience of who Jesus really is which God had shared with them. All too often we are the same - after mountaintop experiences of meeting Christ in worship, we leave those encounters at the door and tell no-one.
On the one hand that might be a comment on the nature of our worship sometimes. On the other though it says something about the unexpected nature of those encounters with God and where and when they happen. The same glory of God was at work in Christ on the streets and the lakeshore and the disciples didn’t fully see it and yet here on the mountaintop they do. How where and when here we perceive the glory of Christ is not something that we should expect, but a gift of God to give.
This event though occurs following much teaching and ministry by Jesus in and amongst the ordinariness and brokenness of our lives. This mountaintop revealing serves as a hope and a validation - a validation of the ministry of Jesus, He is who He claims and what He has talked of, of His death and resurrection restoring the possibility of our relationship with each other and God, is worth hearing; and a hope that beyond the brokenness of our lives there is the promise glory - a restoration of who we are as people made in the image of God which is more than a ‘it will get better’ pat on the head, but a deep knowing in our inner being that one day all will be made new.
With much of the good news of Jesus, the disciples themselves did not go and tell others till after the Resurrection and after their own Transfiguration of sorts at Pentecost. We meet with our Risen Lord who fills us with His Spirit and transforms our lives as we worship - let our prayer be as it was for Jesus that day - Lord through us, reveal something fresh of your glory - not for our sake, but so that others may see and come to know you for themselves. Amen