The transfiguration is a movable feast in the church calendar. It can be celebrated the last Sunday before Lent, or the second Sunday of Lent, or on August 6th. Each brings a slightly different emphasis but celebrated today just before we start the Lenten journey it draws our attention to the nature of this Jesus who is about to set out on his last journey to Jerusalem. ( RCL Mark 9:2-9)
In the imagery of shining light we see that Jesus is both human and divine, both fully ordinary and extraordinary. And most alarmingly and confusingly we see that the glory of God shines upon and from within the one who is to be given over to shameful death. This image of brilliant shining can be overpowering and under engaging. What is such a moment to do with us?
Like Peter we can get distracted and flustered by the brightness of the light and want to build a booth or home in the mystical realms. But the mystical moment by its nature does not last and Jesus and the disciples have to come down the mountain to a world both the same and changed forever. And so we too having glimpsed the nature of Jesus the Anointed one and seen the glory of God in his face must now bring that back into the everyday world of small and great loves, triumphs and woes, losses and death itself. So this is our task this morning – to glimpse the glory of God in Jesus and bring it into ordinary daily life.
St Paul says this in the language we associate with baptism. At the time of our baptism the priest would have said to us: “God has brought you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” And all the gathered faithful would have joined in exhorting us to: “Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father.”
The expression “glory of God” trips off our tongue but many of us would struggle to say what we mean by this. I suspect that the church would struggle to say what we really mean by this. And so at this time it seems useful to reflect on what it might mean for us to shine as a light in the world to the glory of God.
Let us begin with the glory of God in it’s simplest sense. We can imagine in some small way the utter brilliance, the luminosity, the radiance of God. A brightness so great the Israelites believed that they could not look upon the face of God and survive. When Moses spent time with God, his face shone so brightly, with the reflected brilliance of God, that the people could not bear to look upon Moses either and he had to wear a veil for their protection. The glory and power of God is the prophet Elijah is so great that Elisha’s request to have a double measure must be tested by seeing if he can maintain eye contact with the glory of God taking Elijah up. Not really everyday stuff yet!
As humans we know something of the desire, love and power that is expressed in looking upon the face of someone we love. When we gaze into the face of our lover, or our sleeping children, we know the depth of longing and satisfaction that this looking upon stirs up in us. When we look upon an artist’s impression of the face of Jesus as we pray, or when we gaze upon the raised sacraments at the moment of remembrance in the Eucharist, we know that something deep and true in us sees more than the surface of what is before us. When we gaze upon those we love we are imprinted by the image of them, our internal order of meaning and sense in re-organised around the other and we are forever different because of the act of looking. Seeing things changes us.
And what does it do to be looked upon? What happens when we are seen as the object of desire and love? Being truly seen stirs up every kind of feeling - shame, fear, pleasure, joy, gratitude, hunger, satisfaction. When we can bear to maintain eye contact with the one who loves us, even for a moment, we know ourselves not only as we are now but as we might yet be. We, in some small way, become the one who is seen by the beloved. Being truly seen re-organises our inner life as surely as seeing does.
If only we could see and be seen with the innocent delight of a very young child, before they have been socially conditioned. Think of how a baby in a pram will engage in the most joyous encounter of seeing and being seen; of how the child will respond with delight which does not abate and smiles as if there is no upper limit of joy. If they are of that certain age they will prolong the joy by being surprised again and again by the pleasure of catching your eye.
What if we could bear to gaze upon the face of God in such a way that we could not only adore but know ourselves adored, delighted in, desired! We would be remade, recreated by such encounter. We would be transformed, from one degree of glory to another. And our transformation shall be into the creatures we have always been called to be, our truest selves, for this is the glory of our Creator God whose brilliance caused the world to come into being, and who continues to call us into our created fullness. Each moment that we can bear to see and be seen by God, in the face of his son Jesus Christ, the glory of God does it’s transforming work in us. And as we are transformed so we become lit up in a way that is a source of light for others.
Now most of us don’t shine in the way Jesus did up this mountain. But what about the glory that shines from an exhausted fire fighters face? Or the glory that shines in the craftsperson as they bake, sow or carve with God given creativity and generosity? Or the glory that shines quietly in the face of a teacher who patiently works with a student until they too see the pattern? Glory comes in all shades and we are each charged with the glory of God to shine where we are, as we are.
Just as we look upon God and are looked upon, so there is a mutuality to this shining. For in our baptism we are called into a faith community and this process of transformation is not an isolated one. As each of us looks upon the face of God and grows in radiance so we will find that we are a light to one another. And we will find in the face of one another the face of Christ and know that others see in us the Christ. Think about that as you encounter your fellow worshippers including those who bemuse, confuse and irritate!
As we grow into our fullness in the likeness of Christ we contribute to the fulfilment of creation itself as others are encouraged and provoked into their own encounter with God. We will find ourselves shining as a light in the world, in such a way, that God is glorified.
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.
“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
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.”
Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ, come.