Readings: Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36
Today we celebrate the Transfiguration of Jesus. What does that mean? I found an explanation in catholicculture.org -
`This feast became widespread in the West in the 11th century and was introduced into the Roman calendar in 1457 to commemorate the victory over Islam in Belgrade.`
Oh, really? So the date of the Transfiguration is tied, historically, to a battle where Islam lost and Christianity won. That doesn`t seem like the sort of event that Jesus the king of peace would celebrate?
It goes on to say, `The Transfiguration foretells the glory of the Lord (Jesus) as God, and His Ascension into heaven. It anticipates the glory of heaven, where we shall see God face to face. Through grace, we already share in the divine promise of eternal life.`
I don`t want to change anyone else`s view of the Transfiguration, but I`d like to offer an alternative view that makes more sense to me and which is grounded in an understanding that Jesus was a human being, even if those who later wrote about him tried to portray him as something different from us mere humans.
The idea of transfiguration is flagged in our Old Testament reading, where Moses` face is radiant when he comes down from the mountain after communing with God. He has been transfigured by the experience. Fair enough; experiencing a sense of the divine is transforming. Rev`d Dr Anna Grant-Henderson (now retired, like Bill Loader) has copious lectionary notes on the passage. She points out that the veil was not to protect Moses from seeing God, but to protect the people from the sight of Moses transfigured by his meeting with God.
She goes on to say, `This story reinforces the importance of Moses as the human being called by God to act as mediator of the revelation at Sinai and to speak the ongoing messages from God. This message coming from Moses is alive and something which brings life and light to the people if they are willing to hear it. The symbolism is very rich in this passage.`
She suggests that Luke`s transfiguration story is about Jesus taking up Moses` role of mediator. `With due respect`, as the lawyers say, I think that`s wrong, but let`s first turn to the Gospel reading and Bill Loader`s commentary on it.`
Bill, too, says `It is a highly symbolic narrative rich in texture ... It belongs closely with the baptism scene. Both present a meeting point of heaven and earth (and assume that heaven is above). In Jesus the two come together.` He goes on to say `the scene has many of the trappings of a vision of the climax of history. The bodies shine, as will the transfigured spiritual bodies of the resurrected`.
But Bill goes on to say, `Down here is where it happens.` So, what is the significance of this story for you and me? Strangely, it seems the answer is in the veil!
Let`s look at what Paul had to say. He notes the Old Testament image of Moses wearing a veil, to protect the Israelites from the glory of God radiating from him. Then the nature of the veil is switched so that the Jews of his day had a veil over their faces that stopped them seeing the glory that was in Jesus. Finally, he switches back, saying in verse 18, `And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.`
I think Michael Morwood put it very clearly on Tuesday of last week. He first directed our attention to a wonderful quote from Gregory of Nyssa who, in the 4th century said, `For when one considers the universe, can anyone be so simple-minded as not to believe that the Divine is present in everything, pervading, embracing and penetrating it?`
Then, stepping away from the image of a heavenly divine being out there somewhere, he said that the idea of G O D `points to the pervasive, all-present mystery here on earth. This mystery comes to unique expression in us!`
So, far from being an exile from God, I am an expression of the divine and my time here on earth is my chance to give the divine presence the best expression I can.
Michael Morwood pointed out that it wasn`t till 30 years after Jesus` death that Paul invented the idea of God keeping a record of our wrongs. What were Jesus` followers doing in the meantime? They were telling the stories and sayings of Jesus the human being, and some of those stories survived.
My notes of Michael`s address have this quote. I hope I got it right: `The spirit of the Lord was in Jesus, He lived in love, lived in God and God lived in him.`
Does that sound familiar? It is from one of my absolute favourite verses: 1 John 4:16 `God is love and the one who loves in love lives in God and God lives in him.` But notice how John (or whoever wrote that letter) takes it further. It is not just that the spirit of God was in Jesus, but that the same spirit is alive in us.
The other thing about that verse is that it gives us a working definition of the indefinable. We can`t define God but accepting that `God is love` is a very good starting point and fully consistent with all Jesus had to say. We don`t have to have all the answers. After all, as we heard last week `Questions you cannot answer are often better than answers you cannot question.`
Another interesting and provocative thing Michael said was that we don`t gather to `worship` but to tell the story. In that view the communion service is actually a symbolic acting out of the transfiguration of Jesus, so Paul could say to the Corinthians, and to us too, in 1 Corinthians 12:27 `you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it`. So for us the transfiguration means that Jesus has been transfigured into you and me, or, as the song says `Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours` and so on.
The same divine spirit that was expressed in Jesus is in us. How are you going to express yourself?