This week is the Feast of the Transfiguration – you all know the story – Jesus takes James and John and Peter up a mountain to pray and while Jesus is praying the appearance of His face changes. The transfiguration is a remarkable moment in the Gospel story – it is one that we might be tempted to skip or move swiftly past as something we don’t understand.
Except that it is one of those stories that appear largely unchanged through the three synoptic Gospels. John doesn’t mention it but in fact John’s entire Gospel appears to be a transfiguration story – as we watch the Glory of God become flesh in an inversion of this story. Paul talks about seeing Jesus as He really is and being transformed from glory into glory. And Peter reminds us in his letter of how he was an eye witness of Jesus’ majesty.
I want to pick out just a few points from the passage to share with you.
When Luke says that Jesus’ face changes – or is transfigured – we are not talking of Jesus changing into something else – rather it is that Jesus is briefly unveiled before the disciples. They are getting a glimpse of the true glory of Jesus the Christ. As Moses saw the glory of God light up a bush without burning it – so the disciples watch as Jesus is lit up in the Glory of the Present God.
If you skip forward to the book of Revelation you come across a description of the New Jerusalem where there is no more need of a sun as Jesus provides enough light for all.
The Transfiguration is one of those moments when God’s world and ours intersected and we are given a glimpse into the beauty and light of the Kingdom of heaven.
Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus discussing what is coming as Jesus heads to Jerusalem. The Gospel describes it as Jesus’ departure – in the Greek the word used is Exodon – the exodus of Jesus – from this world into the new kingdom. Jesus is to lead the new Exodus - out of the slavery to sin into the Promised Land of God’s everlasting love.
I was struck by the question – why the transfiguration? Why did God do this with Jesus?
It is important to remember that this happens soon after Jesus has asked the disciples who they think He is and Peter has proclaimed Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus had heard it from His disciples and now He hears it from His Father – you are my Son, my Chosen one.
The transfiguration was meant firstly for Jesus. It shows us both the divinity and humanity of Jesus. The glory of Jesus is clear but this moment show us a little of the humanity of Jesus as He is given the assurance of God’s love as He continues his walk to Jerusalem. The disciples are exhausted – but they are awake enough to see this. I was struck by the similarities and differences with another event– in a few weeks we will hear of them failing to stay awake as Jesus prays on another mountain in the Garden. I am left wondering if there are any potentially great moments in my faith journey I have slept through. Am I awake to all that God is doing in my life – in my Church? Am I involved enough to see God work?
In a few weeks in the Garden with these same disciples there would be no bright light, no voice, no visitation by Moses and Elijah. Instead the disciples would be sleeping and the light would be the torches of the soldiers coming to take Him away.
Jesus is receiving His final message of support and comfort – similar to the voice of assurance at His baptism at the beginning of His ministry – you are my Son, my beloved.
But the Transfiguration was also for the disciples – that is why Jesus brought them along. Jesus tells them not to tell anyone what has happened – sharing it too soon would decrease its value. This event when they remembered it would enable the disciples to keep going in the face of hardships and doubt. It would give them the courage to continue speaking when their voices were threatened and the nights were dark and lonely.
Later, the apostle Peter wrote, “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables, when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eye witnesses of his majesty.” (1 Peter 1:16)
And then the Transfiguration has great meaning for us today – we too catch a glimpse of the glory of God shining forth in Jesus. We are able to see that Jesus is not just a man, but the light of the world – the glory of God. We can no longer dismiss Jesus as just a man – we have seen His true nature – we have seen the glory of the Christ who will return to transform the whole earth into the Kingdom of God.
And then we hear the voice of God say – this is my Son, listen to Him.
As we read the scriptures we are called to allow Jesus’ words to transform us – to transfigure us until we too grow into God’s likeness.
Our times of worship, prayer and teaching and our sharing communion together at the Lord’s Table are a means of grace where we come face to face with Jesus. The more time we spend with Jesus the more God is revealed to us and in us and so through us to the world.