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Transfiguration C 7th February, 2016
2 Corinthians 3:12- 4:2
On this last Sunday in the season of Epiphany, we celebrate a great revelation, which is the transfiguration of Jesus. This was a revelation that three of the disciples experienced and then presumably reported to their fellows, though not, according to Luke, immediately. And while this is insofar as the disciples experienced it, a public moment, it is for Jesus a moment of intimate relationship with God the Father.
There are many things that we really don’t have any knowledge of in regard to Jesus’ relationship with God while he was incarnate, here on earth. Jesus was, we believe, fully human and so was like us in many ways. One thing that we do know for certain was that Jesus, when he was in human form, prayed to God. This passage among others in the gospels show us Jesus drawing away from his busy work to spend time in communication with God.
Here Jesus goes up the mountain to pray. Why up the mountain? Well, presumably it was quiet and uninhabited and away from everything that he was doing. There is something about being on a mountain that gives you perspective- isn’t there? You can see the world, whether it is the city you have come from, or the splendour of wild gorges, or valleys, or even a plain, from a height that allows you to reflect.
On this occasion Jesus takes with him the disciples, James, John and Peter. It is not clear in the passage why he did this. I can only offer some suggestions- perhaps he is modelling a life of intimate connection to God in prayer for them? Or perhaps he has an inkling , or even direct knowledge of what is about to occur and he wants them to witness it? Or perhaps Jesus, like many of us, longs for companionship on his journey? We know that he is facing the next stage as this is what he discusses with Moses and Elijah. Then in verse 51 of this same chapter, Jesus turns his face to Jerusalem, which is the beginning of the end for him.
When Jesus ascends the mountain and presumably, prays to God, he is transfigured- his face shines with a radiant light and his clothes also. Jesus’ glory is revealed and can be seen by his disciples. Of course, there is a precedent for this as the same thing, as we read from Exodus, occurs to Moses when he spends time with God on a mountain. The Greek word is metamorphosis a word that we are familiar with in the sense of something that changes state, the original material transformed into something else. Our most frequent idea is that of a butterfly, changed from a caterpillar in the cocoon to a flying insect of great beauty. We are also familiar with rocks that are transformed by heat and pressure, shale into slate etc. They are metamorphic, and likewise Jesus is at this moment transformed so that his true state is somehow revealed. And the disciples, though weighed down with sleep, stay awake to see the glory. (Just as an aside, I love the particular spin that Luke puts on this story, which is a little different to either Matthew or Mark).
The thing that interests me is that though transformed, Jesus is still human enough to be talking strategy with his two human predecessors Moses and Elijah, both great leaders of people. And Jesus, though revealed in his glory, is speaking of his departure “which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem”. Isn’t this a strange way of putting it? It is like he is planning to catch a train. Jesus and Moses and Elijah are not talking about his coming death, or resurrection, but in fact the last stage of the process, which we will celebrate on Ascension Day after Easter. The Greek word here is the word ‘exodus’, familiar to us from the fledgling Jewish nation running from Egypt with Pharaoh in pursuit. This certainly resonates with the experience of the formation of the church, persecuted as it was.
Do you get the feeling that it was all going over the disciples’ heads a bit? They don’t seem to have taken in the details, sleepy as they were. I see them like small children at a grownup party- tired and a little bored even if they feel privileged to be there!
And then comes a moment just for the disciples. After Moses and Elijah have disappeared God speaks so that they can hear, and says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” This reminds us of the moment at Jesus’ baptism when God speaks and describes him as “beloved”. The message for the disciples is clear- Jesus has been chosen to do something in particular and has God’s authority as well as God’s glory. This human, transfigured so that his glory is visible, has a job to do and the disciples are to listen to him. And of course, that flows through to us. Jesus, the glorious one has given us instruction about how we are to live in this world as his body and we must listen to him.
Jesus’ act of prayer has consequences both for him and for the disciples. Jesus is drawn into intimacy with God that reveals him as he is. Jesus is enabled for his next stage of the journey and is confirmed in what he is doing, both privately and publically.
So what does this say to us? Well, it seems to me that, like Jesus, we are called to prayer. We are drawn through prayer, into intimacy with God. God knows us in a way that we cannot know ourselves and God reveals things to us about ourselves, about our companions on the journey and about God’sself. When we pray we open ourselves to relationship, and we can be transformed. For us it doesn’t happen, usually, all at once as it did for Jesus, who was shining with the glory that was concealed by his incarnation, or being embodied. No, we are more like Moses, we shine with reflected glory. But in order to be transformed in the act of prayer we have to turn up. We have to go up the mountain, whether it is a physical place or an internal act of pilgrimage, and put ourselves in God’s presence. God is always drawing us to himself but much of the time we resist. We need to make time for intimacy with God.
The next thing that we need to do is to listen to God, just like the disciples. We often spend a lot of time telling God what we think should happen, and frequently we spend time trying to make a bargain with God. Rather, we should make our requests to God, understanding that God knows it all before we speak, and that God sees the big picture- God looks down from the mountaintop. And then we need to quieten ourselves sufficiently to hear God speak to us. Jesus, on the mountain, did not just tell God what was happening, but listened to what Moses and Elijah had to say. And there is a truth here for us as well, that in reading the words of the greats of our faith, we often allow ourselves to be spoken to by God. In the act of praying to God we open ourselves to relationship- we allow God to love us, we allow God to speak to us, and we are transformed in the process.
When Jesus taught his disciples a simple prayer to help them in their relationship with God, the first two petitions were concerning God, God’self. God, revealed as king, bringing in God’s Kingdom, “Your Kingdom come.” The God who knows us intimately has a will for us and for his world and we pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This receptivity to God and to God’s Kingdom within and around us is the way we become intimate with God.
The apostle Paul, talking again to the Corinthians, says that we are able to see the unveiled face of God. This is a step from fear at God’s magnificence, to an intimate and close relationship. Yes, God is aweful, and awesome to use the vernacular, but God is also our loving father. Paul also speaks of the work of the Holy Spirit, transforming us into a likeness of God, God’sself. Just like Jesus on the mountain, the glory of God will be revealed in us. We are being transformed from one degree of glory to another.
So, my dear friends, let me encourage you to go up a mountain and pray, just like Jesus. Let me encourage you to do this regularly so that the Holy Spirit can transfigure each one of us and enable us to shine with God’s glory.