Transfiguration – living glory full of truth and grace
Mary Copping, 23 February 2020
Exodus 24: 12–18; Matthew 17: 1–9
Why doesn’t God answer my prayers? Where is he when I need him? Who is God anyway, and why all the suffering – my suffering and the suffering of the world? Questions we may often ask, sometimes desperate, sometimes hopeless. We’re all looking for God in the circumstances of life. We want God to show up, do something. And for the disciples, following Jesus, they have seen God do something: they’ve seen Jesus cast out demons, they’ve seen Peter’s mother-in-law healed, they’ve seen people with leprosy healed, the blind receive their sight and thousands fed. This is the God that we’re talking about!
But part of our spiritual journey is to discover the God who is beyond, yet in, all our circumstances. The God who is, whatever we go through. In our gospel reading we’re told of Jesus leading Peter, James and John up the mountain to discover this. Here their experience of the light of Christ brings them deeper into God’s life, deeper into his light and his love. This is an experience that they will carry with them through the confusions, the pain and difficulties that lie ahead.
Here on the mountain they see Jesus ‘transfigured before them … and his clothes became dazzling white’. A cloud overshadows them and the Father’s voice speaks of his beloved Son. Peter wants to build tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. He wants to keep them there. ‘It is good for us to be here’, he says. He wants to hang on to that wonderful moment and not go back to the nitty-gritty of normal life. And who can blame him? Who would want to go back after such a wonderful experience?
It’s been described that, on the Mount of Transfiguration, the disciples’ experience of seeing the holiness and light of God became a window through which they saw things in a new way. It gave them a new way of seeing and being. They were transfigured as much as Jesus was; their lives were changed for ever. When we have these moments of clarity, we can see things in a different way, as if through a new window. Circumstances haven’t changed but we change, which seems to change everything.
Those transfigured moments are all around. I’m sure all of us, if we thought about it, could tell a story about stepping back from a situation, seeing with new eyes and discovering, as it were, a window that opened into another world and another way of being. This often happens when we take children for a walk, or take someone to a place that is new to them. With them, we look with fresh sight. And when people are dying, their whole perspective changes, their whole view of the world is transfigured, and so are the views of those around them. Things that were important are not any more. Deep things of the spirit become vitally important. They, and we, look with new, deeper eyes.
When people are dying, their whole perspective changes, their whole view of the world is transfigured, and so are the views of those around them.
As many of you know, my son and his partner Carly have twins, who are now nine months old. One, Isla, is healthy; the other, Emily, has many difficulties and is going to need a lot of operations. Since she was born, she has had a tube in each nostril, one for breathing, one for feeding, with plasters on her face to keep the tubes fixed. Last week, Carly took her to the hospital to have her tubes changed, and she had the tubes out for five minutes of her life. Carly sent me a photo of her. Her face was shining with joy – she was transfigured in that moment. It was wonderful and uplifting to see. Apparently all the nurses who had come to know Emily in her many visits to the hospital came to see her and rejoice. For baby Emily and for all, this was a promise of things to come. These moments are transfiguring moments, for those involved but also for those watching. Everyone felt so joyous in that moment, and that moment stayed with Carly, perhaps stayed with the nurses, to transform and transfigure their day, their week.
I wonder what our transfiguring moments are, the moments that keep us going through the difficulties – the moments where we find God, where we see the light of his holiness. Perhaps standing in a quiet cathedral, lighting a candle for a loved one, being in the stillness of a country walk? Moses had a transfiguration moment on the mountaintop, and this will have kept him going through the long, difficult journey in the desert.
The Transfiguration is all about light – God’s light. In the Bible, light comes first and last – from the creation of light in Genesis to the light of the world in St John’s Gospel that shines in the darkness and is not overcome, to the light of Revelation shining at the centre of the heavenly city.
God’s light shone on the disciples in that wonderful moment; but they then had to go down the mountain, go back to their everyday existence, to seeing Jesus despised, beaten, killed. However, they took with them the memory of this transfiguration experience, which perhaps came back to them in the dark times, reminding them of God’s presence with them.
As for us, we cannot make these times of transfiguration happen, we cannot force God to show us the glory of his presence – but we can give him the space to reveal himself to us in whatever way he chooses. Moses went up on to Mount Sinai and saw God’s glory and his face was transfigured. Jesus took the disciples up a high mountain where they had this experience; it did not happen in the busyness and stress of the world.
So for us, perhaps during this Lenten period we can take time to spend quietly with God, to be open to all that he wants to show us and, most of all, make time to receive his transfiguring love, for us and for the world. Emily, the twin, was in a busy hospital but in a quiet room, and there she was transfigured, changed and others were changed too in witnessing her joy and freedom. Let us ask God to help us to witness his presence, and to see with new, transfigured eyes, through a new window, all that lies before us. All our questions about him can then be hushed for a while in the light of his presence.
To finish, a poem on the Transfiguration by Malcolm Guite:
For that one moment, ‘in and out of time’,
On that one mountain where all moments meet,
The daily veil that covers the sublime
In darkling glass fell dazzled at his feet.
There were no angels full of eyes and wings
Just living glory full of truth and grace.
The Love that dances at the heart of things
Shone out upon us from a human face
And to that light the light in us leaped up,
We felt it quicken somewhere deep within,
A sudden blaze of long-extinguished hope
Trembled and tingled through the tender skin.
Nor can this blackened sky, this darkened scar
Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are.