A Reflection on the Gospel Reading 14.2.21
Transfiguration Sunday marks the end of the season of Epiphany. There is a lot of talk about light during Epiphany, beginning with the shining star that led the Wise Men to Jesus. Epiphany literally means ‘to shine on’ or ‘give light to’ and today’s gospel reading about the Transfiguration is all about light shining, from people’s faces, because they have encountered the mystery and presence of God. But how confusing for the disciples. Peter, James and John have been with Christ up the mountain. There can be no confusion for them as to who Christ is, He truly is the Messiah, the Son of God. Even though Peter has already made his declaration that Jesus I the Christ the voice from the cloud leaves them in no doubt as they are then instructed to listen to Christ. After such an experience they would certainly do anything Christ asks of them. But strangely, the first thing Christ says to them is that they should tell no one about what had happened and what they had seen until the one they had just seen transfigured in glory has died and risen from the dead. How could being the Messiah, the Son of God involve suffering as well as glory, pain as well as light and life? Jesus had already begun to explain what would happen to Him but it’s easy to imagine the disciples forgetting this in the heat, light and glory of the moment. Mark records that the disciples obeyed Christ’s command faithfully, but then did talk among themselves as to what this could possibly mean! There are times when we too catch glimpses of God’s glory, and even reflect its radiance it in our faces. There are times too when we are confused and don’t understand what is happening in the heat of the moment. Those are the times when we, like the disciples, have to step out in faith, sure in the certain hope that we will only fully understand God’s plan and our part in it when we meet with the transfigured and resurrected Christ resplendent in all His light and Glory.
Seeing the Light
Today’s gospel reading follows the declaration by the disciples that Jesus is the Messiah. So their decision about Jesus is not prompted by what they see on the mountain. It’s more like what they see and hear on the mountain is a confirmation of what they have already come to believe, that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. As Jane Williams writes,”’ This is my Son, my Beloved’ – you have made the right choice”. The thin curtain that separates the spiritual and physical dimensions of the cosmos is pulled back and the disciples see revealed the glory of the Father and His heavenly Kingdom about to break through on earth. Jesus is the fulfilment of the Old Testament law and the prophets and brings to a completion their work. In Jesus, confirmed once again at the transfiguration, a new day is now dawning, a new era has come. Light is breaking though in our world in a new way. Jesus coming was not a trivial event – it would have cosmic and cataclysmic consequences! The memory of the glorious encounter would last with Peter, James and John for the rest of their lives and into eternity. Whatever they would encounter as they followed Jesus, the joys, trials and tribulations of life as a disciple of Jesus that particular experience and memory would remain with them. They would recall it at night, they would think of it as Jesus spoke to them and taught them of His Father’s love for them and the world. They would hold it before them as they went out into the community in which they lived, to share what it meant to have had an encounter with the Son of God and the transformation that brought in their own lives. If they’d lived in an era of smartphones they would certainly have taken a few ‘selfies’ to capture the moment and to help them remember it for the rest of their lives!
Given that Peter, James and John witnessed the bright light of the glory of God its perhaps not surprising that it is these same disciples who are with Jesus in His hour of deepest agony and darkness in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the dark, they would remember the light. In the hour of Jesus’ deepest affirmation and challenge, they would remember the mountain top experience. And yet, not all the disciples experienced the transfiguration. They, like many others to follow them, would need to live off the experience of the few who had witnessed first hand the intervention of God and His voice speaking in His creation. But mystical experiences are not just the privilege of a few. Each of us in our own way can experience similar mystical experiences at different times of our lives. They can be times when we are reassured of God’s personal relationship and love for us as individuals, they can assure us of God’s purpose in our lives, or that can just be a mystical experience of a power other than ourselves in our lives for a brief moment. But just because we do not always see and hear the transforming and transfiguring light and voice of God does not mean that they do not exist, for others or for ourselves. Our faith will always be a mixture of our own personal experience and spiritual journey and the reflected experience and stories of others on the same road. We may not always hear and experience God in the same way as others but we should not deny the reality of that experience just because it is not ours. God, through His Son Jesus, speaks to each one of us differently, meets with us in different ways; wants us to encounter Him not only in our mountain top experiences but in our valleys of despair. And as He does, as we acknowledge the voice that says, ‘This is my beloved Son, listen to Him’, as we listen to Him and let the light of the transfiguration into our lives, so Christ is able to transfigure and transform our lives.
When life is at its most confusing and uncertain or when we are most afraid (like the disciples up the mountain with Jesus) we can still look around and see and realise the glory of God, and in so doing begin to get an insight into Him and of our place in His world. Our place in reflecting the glory which is His however badly and inadequately we might feel we do this. We also need to appreciate the elusive quality of the revelation of God’s glory. The disciples found that it could not be contained or controlled and it never will be. It is, by its very nature, elusive. When God touches us, as he does to each one of us, we should appreciate the moment and move on down the mountain and back to real life, not try to build structures around an experience or to try to capture it or put it on record as if it was something to be photographed but live it for the immediacy and let it change our lives forever.