The Transfiguration is one of those moments in the gospel when we can see as well as hear that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine and that we are invited up into this wholeness and holiness. (RCL Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; and Luke 9:28-36)
Long ago, B.C. - before I had children - I went trekking in the Himalaya. We had five weeks to trek from Srinagar in Kashmir up to the ancient city of Leh on the Silk Route in Ladakh. Toward the end of the second week our guide told us in the morning that we would be passing from Kashmir into Ladakh that day. I did not know what that meant. All day we climbed higher and higher through cloud and snow. At last I came to the shoulder of the mountainside where the path went over the pass. I stood breathless - it was 14,000 feet above sea level! I looked back into the valley I had been in all day and saw far below a village with pitched wooden shingled roofs and the rounded dome of a Muslim mosque. I looked ahead into a green pastured valley with flat-topped roofs of Buddhist Ladakh with Tibetan prayer flags fluttering in the wind. I stood for a moment where two very different worlds met.
In some sense this is what we have in the Transfiguration story. The Transfiguration is a moment in which two worlds meet, in which all worlds meet, in the one person Jesus Christ, and we glimpse what it means that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. With Peter we do not fully understand what is happening and only upon reflection will we begin to understand what we see.
In this story we meet Moses and Elijah. This is not coincidental for the Transfiguration is not simply a convention of great religious figures alive and dead! The presence of Mosses, the great Law giver,
who received the Law on a mountain top reminds us that Jesus is the fulfilment of the Law. And the presence of Elijah, a faithful priest and prophet, who heard the voice of God at the entrance to a cave on the side of a mountain reminds us that Jesus is the fulfilment of Scripture and our great High Priest. We are also meant to get the connection here between Elijah and John the Baptist. There are strong resonances here of the stories of Jesus’ baptism, his resurrection and his ascension. These are pivotal moments when we can see, with the disciples’ eyes, that Jesus was indeed fully human and fully divine; we hear God’s declaration that he is Beloved; and we hear and see this impossible truth, that in Jesus humanity and divinity became one. All on the eve of Lent.
In a sense we are being given all of Lent and Easter to begin to understand what it means that Jesus was human and divine. Not just a little bit human but as our creed says “fully human”. As St Athanasius so scandalously said long ago: “God became human so that humans might become god/divine.” The one who will suffer and struggle and sacrifice was fully human, not protected from pain or fear or anguish. Not just a smidgeon of divinity but truly the Son of God, God become flesh. It is God’s own self that inhabits our flesh, walks besides us, heals us and dies our common death.
During Lent we will have the opportunity to reflect at some length on what it mean for us, for our faith, our worship, our ministry, that divinity and humanity meet in the person of Jesus. If we only focus on the divinity of Jesus, the transcendent, sacred, - other worldly - then we tend to only see his perfection and our falleness; his part as the culmination of God’s salvation history and our need for atonement. The benefit of this is that we are freed from our delusions and our egocentric small selves. The danger is that we are blinded to the beauty of creation and so concerned with our personal salvation that we ignore our part in bringing about the reign of God in this world.
If we focus only on the humanity of Jesus, the immanence, the social, the this-worldliness, then our eye may be drawn only to our common lot; his presence as brother and friend; his availability as companion.
The gift of this perspective is that we can receive the wonderful surprise that God is perfectly revealed and hidden within the life of Jesus and therefore in all life. The danger is that we may lose the uniqueness of the Christ in our vision of the commonness of Jesus. But when we get the balance right, when we know our need for redemption and our desire for the fulfilment of our human potential, we may come to experience the transcendent within and to be free to “Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God.”
In a modern day Transfiguration story Nelson Mandela, in his inaugural speech, after one of the hardest journeys up a mountain, quoted Marianne Williamson’s prayer. You may already know it.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.”
It seems to me that the only response to all that seeks to destroy creation and all that denies the divine is to turn to the light that emanates from the divinity of the Son of Man – the fully human one. To see not only that divinity visited us in human form to show us the face of God but to see that humanity is home to the divine spark. To know in our hearts, our minds, and our very marrow that we were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. As individuals, as the Body of Christ, as the human family, as creatures in the presence of the Creator, let us take up our baptismal charge to “Shine as a light in the world, to the glory of God.”
Even so, come Lord Jesus the Christ, come draw us into the fullness of human wholeness and the holiness of the divine you have breathed into us.
Lent begins next week. If you are not already decided on how you are going to journey do take a look at the Lent course "The Path of Descent" that I have prepared. The first week is free so you can see if it suits your needs before committing.