A moment of shining glory

Peter Seal, 14 February 2021

2 Kings 2: 1–12; 2 Corinthians 4: 3–6; Mark 9: 2–9

We’re given a moment of shining glory. Our Lord takes three disciples with him, and together they climb a nearby high mountain. (Nothing extraordinary so far.) And then, in what feels like a deeply prayerful experience of mystery – we’re suddenly in unknown territory – Jesus is changed.

His clothes become dazzling white. Light blazes from him. The three disciples Peter, James and John see two great figures of their religious tradition with Jesus: Moses and Elijah. Moses represents the Law, and Elijah represents the Prophets. Together they link us firmly into the ancient Jewish tradition.

Poor Peter, impulsive and practical as ever, and terrified, too, feels he must do something. So he offers to make three dwellings. At this point the cloud hides everything. This is clearly not a moment to be enshrined. And then the voice: ‘This is my Son, the beloved; listen to him!’ The disciples look again, and Jesus stands alone. It’s all over … well, actually, it’s all beginning.

The main point is, those three disciples were given an experience of God. God became real to them in a new way. They saw God, and thereby themselves, in a new way.

In our lives there are similar experiences, when God becomes deeply real. We may be able to remember, to name, to reclaim such precious golden moments. It’s probable that most of us glimpse spiritual heights not because of our own efforts at climbing, but through what we’ve seen in another person – in the beauty and in the holiness of someone’s else’s life. Often such an encounter leaves us both inwardly exalted and similarly humbled.

Our fervent hope for each other and for ourselves, as members of the body of Christ, is that priceless gift of the presence of the utter reality of God.

Our fervent hope for each other and for ourselves is that priceless gift of the presence of the utter reality of God.

The other week I heard these lovely words: ‘Take time to behold God, as God beholds you, beholding him’. I’m reminded of one of Mother Julian’s famous phrases, which I have framed on my study wall: ‘God, of your goodness, give me yourself; for you are enough for me’.

God’s gift of utter reality is something we can never plan to receive, or orchestrate – but we can be open to it. We can put ourselves in the way of it. Sometimes, it comes in a sacramental moment when the bread in our hands and the wine on our lips suddenly acquire a flavour and a vintage that take us out of time and out of our human limitations; and yes, intoxicate us with God. We look forward to more of that when we can safely worship together again in our churches.

Wouldn’t it be the very best of Valentine’s gifts to suddenly be completely overwhelmed by the all-embracing, consuming, passionate love of God, which is beyond all human extravagance and limitation?

The reality, this coming week, is likely to be that God will come not in some great dramatic way, but unexpectedly in the ordinary things of the everyday. It might be that he will come within a relationship that we feel has become humdrum, until an unexpected word or gesture shines within it. Or when the task we rather resented is gifted with a new meaning and we maybe even find a sense of vocation within it. Or perhaps we’ll notice someone displaying unexpected kindness or courage, or faith or sweetness, who fills us with awe, and before whom we almost bow down.

These, surely, are the secret and unexpected, outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual truths – sacraments, openings – that lead to our mountains of transfiguration.

The final section of today’s Eucharistic Prayer expresses all this so beautifully, and I commend it to you for special listening and praying when we come to it.

Transfiguring God, it is good for us to be here.
Through this holy sacrament make us your sons and daughters
and be close to all children
who have no one to share your love and mercy with them.
Make us your belovèd
and visit all who have no one to call them belovèd.
Give us grace to listen to your voice
and bring to your heart any who have no one to listen to them.
Surround us with your prophetic company
and take us up into the whirlwind of your glory,
until the day comes when the waters of the Jordan are parted
and the heavens are opened
and the chariots bring us home to you,
ever one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.