Today we celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord. This day counts as one of the great feasts on the liturgical calendar. Though I guess not many of us will be aware of this. Most of the other great feasts are connected to holidays and this one is not. Though for a lot of us the 6th of August comes in the middle of our Summer holidays. And now it is even right on a Sunday, which is of course a feast in itself.
I think it is really worthwhile to meditate, to ponder on the meaning of this very important event in the earthly life of our Lord, and on its joyful meaning for our lives, as followers of Christ. So let us take a closer look at today’s Gospel passage [St Mark 9.2-7].
It starts with an indication of time; ‘six days later’. As always in the Bible you can read all kinds of things in these numbers. Here, it may be related to the seven days of Creation. The Transfiguration of Christ on the eve of the seventh day reveals a deeper truth about God’s Creation. It is a powerful revelation of the Kingdom of God, already present in this world since Creation. But now with the indwelling of the incarnated Son of God, the world is coming to a new stage.
But what exactly had happened a week before? If you look in the previous chapter you will find: St Peter’s profession of faith, the first prophecy of the Passion and Jesus explaining his disciples the ‘condition of following Christ’. A strong statement of Jesus on this condition to follow Him, is that it implies, to renounce yourself and to take up your cross. At first sight a rather harsh message. What will the disciples have made of this? How are you able to cope with this task, that sounds not very joyful. And then a week later, three of them, St Peter, St James and his brother St John, are invited by Jesus to go with Him, high on a mountain.
Very often in the Bible it is on the top of a mountain where God reveals himself to mankind, where heaven touches earth. On mount Sinai the people of Israel received the Law, through Moses. God summons the prophet Elijah, to climb mount Horeb before He meets him. And now on this mountain, Moses and Elijah join Jesus and talk with Him. This reminds us of the strong connection with God’s earlier revelations to the Jewish people. It points at our rootedness in Judaism. But it also proclaims the fact that Jesus is the fulfilment of both the law and the prophets.
The disciples see Jesus transfigured. His clothes become brilliantly white, and his face shines like the sun. And then again, the affirmation that was first heard at Jesus’ baptism sounds. ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, He enjoys my favour. Listen to Him.”
The three disciples are aware that they are witnessing something very profound and beautiful. It fills them first with joy. So much so, that St Peter wants to build tents or dwellings in order to let it last longer. But then there is also a great fear and they even fall on their faces. And afterwards they are stuck with a lot of question marks, as you read on in the next passage. Very, very strong emotions going in all kinds of directions. And on top of that, they are asked by Jesus not to tell anyone about it, until the Son of man is risen from the dead.
As we know, the real and full Transfiguration only took place with the suffering, death and resurrection of the Lord. We may imagine that this vision of the Transfiguration on the mountain, was helpful for the three disciples to make sense of all that followed later on. As Jesus asked them to be with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. To sense this deeper dimension of God’s light shining, even through the horrible events of Jesus’ passion.
This mountain-top experience, on what you could call an ‘edge place’, certainly was something really strange for the disciples. It was an encounter with the glory of God in a different, unexpected and mysterious way. What should they make of it? And what about us? What can it mean for us, and how can we take part in this same experience in our lives, perhaps even here and now?
Jesus reveals Himself to us on this feast day of the Transfiguration, as the Light of the world. He invites us to follow Him, up on the mountain, after He has told us to take up our crosses. The Lord offers His light, to shine on this broken world, in all its groaning and suffering. He reveals to us, God’s love for His creation. And he reveals Himself as the incarnation of this love, as the beloved Son. His light shines on all of us personally, as we try to take up our crosses, as we lift up our sins and wounds to His healing touch. By doing this, we may see His light and feel God’s immense love, shining underneath and through all of our daily experiences; the joyful ones, as well as the painful ones.
We are explicitly asked, as so often in the Gospel, not to be afraid. We are asked to ‘climb the mountain’, go to an edge place, whatever that may mean for you. To take time for prayer, to go into silence, to come to church or literally to climb a mountain, even if you have to leave our flat country for doing so. Discovering such personal ‘edge places’ can help us, to become open for the Lord to reveal Himself to us. Even if it is just for a short moment. It is when we recognise those ‘incarnation moments’- occasions when God’s abundance touches our own lives – that we can enter into a more splendid and transfigured life. When we meet Him in this church, on this feast day of the Transfiguration, as He gives Himself to us at Holy Communion. And then we are to move on, without building a tent. Trusting and knowing that He will never be far off on the roads we travel.
By looking at the transfigured Jesus Christ, we are able to gradually let ourselves be changed, be transfigured, as we follow in His footsteps.
May the Lord help us to receive and reflect the light that shone in all its brightness, on that day of His Transfiguration. A light that is still shining on us today, and on all the days of our earthly lives, until we may see His glory in all its splendour.