We heard this sermon from our Reader Christine on Sunday 6 August 2017.
Transfiguration – a dictionary definition says; a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state.
I don’t think we could describe Jesus’ transfiguration any better, but explaining it is a bit more difficult.
Luke mentions this event took place 6 days after Jesus had asked his disciples, who they thought he was and Peter had answered that he was, “The Messiah of God.” He had then revealed to his disciples that he was to suffer and die, which must have seemed unreal. Why should the Messiah suffer? Had they all not been waiting for him, but Jesus’ transfiguration was aimed at strengthening the apostles’ faith before his Passion. However, he revealed this to only three of them; to Peter, James and John who were considered to be part of his inner circle. The other disciples were left at the bottom of the mountain and probably asked to pray.
We can only imagine the effects the experience of the transfiguration had on the witnesses. These were ordinary men who had experienced a number of events during the time they had followed Jesus, but nothing on this scale.
Peter, the rock on which the church was to be built, was often portrayed as one who constantly made numerous blunders, either saying or doing the wrong thing and in this passage Luke tells us how Peter offered to build three shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah, again missing the point. Peter may have felt they could hold on to this moment and prolong the experience of glory, but he had not taken in what was being discussed between Moses and Elijah with Jesus. They had in fact been discussing Jesus’ departure, his Passion, and as if rebuking Peter suggestion a cloud descends on all of them and reminiscent to the baptism of Jesus a voice came out of the cloud saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” and when the cloud was gone only Jesus was left.
The disciples were understandably fearful.
Jimmy Akin, a Catholic editor and speaker says, “The Transfiguration was a special event in which God allowed certain apostles to have a privileged spiritual experience that was meant to strengthen their faith for the challenges they would later endure. But it was only a temporary event. It was not meant to be permanent.”
Jesus’ face shone and his clothing dazzled because he had been in the presence of God in the similar way that Moses was affected when he too was in the presence of God, but this was different. This was God’s way of affirming his Son in the presence of the disciples and preparing them for the events that were to take place in Jerusalem. Jesus too may also have needed this to strengthen him, to affirm the next stage of his journey and give him that glory. The disciples knew Jesus in human form, but now they had witnessed his heavenly form in glory.
The disciples would be able to recall this experience in detail, maybe that’s why Jesus told them to tell no-one at that time, but to wait until after his resurrection. They needed to be able to feel the exhilaration of this day and to pass it on to the other disciples and ultimately to us his church, when they and us need it most.
I would imagine one way of describing the experience for us, would be like climbing (metaphorically) to the top of a high mountain and feeling the exhilaration of a special moment, or seeing the glory of God on a beautiful summer day. However, we then have to walk back down the mountain and return to normal life, that moment remains with you so you can recall it when we need God near us, or to praise him for a precious event.
We may all, at sometime, have experienced a special spiritual moment. It may be something that has happened a long time ago, perhaps even in our childhood, but it’s that moment when we feel at peace in our mind and body. When we feel God’s presence close to us and know in our hearts, he is there for us when we need him. A bit like being taken to a different plain when something special, even ethereal has taken place, but you can’t describe it or the feeling it leaves with you. You just know you have experienced God’s presence.
Margaret Silf describes these types of events as ‘Kingfisher moments’ – “like a dart of brilliance streaking across the riverbank, caught for a split second in the full light of the sun.” These moments are like spontaneous prayer when we feel the presence of God.
A story Margaret tells to try and explain these types of moments is this:
The lights were red at the first junction. I had to wait for a few minutes – it seemed like minutes but I suppose it was only seconds really – at the head of the queue of cars, opposite the house that had always intrigued me. It must have been a child-minder’s house, because I would often see small children being delivered there at this time in the morning, and in the summer afternoons there would usually be a crop of youngsters playing in the steeply rising back garden.
I watched the place again that morning, not having much else to occupy my mind until the lights turned green again. There were no children in sight, but a little cat was sitting in solitary splendour on an upstairs window-sill. For a moment I held her gaze, or she held mine! Then she was gone – back to her haunts in the unseen spaces of the unknown house. I had seen her before, very occasionally, when she happened to be sitting on the window-sill at the same moment in time when I happened to be sitting in the traffic queue.
But that morning she reminded me of God. Prayer seems like that. There are moments when we see him, and know his reality in a new kind of way. He shows himself to us when we least expect it. He sits for a moment on our soul’s window-sill. And we receive the fleeting gift because we ourselves are also sitting still – usually because of some immobilising circumstances, and the much-resented red lights on our inner journey, that turn out to be graced moments after all.
I recall thinking that I must remember to tell my daughter about the cat that night. But why should she believe me? She would need to see it for herself. If she had seen it, even once, she would know that it is truly there, however invisible for most of the time. And we, too, do need the glimpse that God gives us of himself. They are enough to assure us of his permanent reality, however infrequent our ‘sightings’ of him may be.
The lights turned green again. The moment of eternity was passed and I was back in time again, but I was carrying a new knowledge in my heart, not only of the occupants of the unknown house, but also of the ways of God. There was a knowledge that ‘There is a cat living in that house, even though, most of the time, I cannot see it.’ The same knowledge as ‘God is at home in my heart, whether I think I can see him or not.’
A transfiguration moment can take us by surprise, that inner feeling of the presence of God in our lives.
That moment that astounds us and takes our breath away.
That moment when Peter, James and John saw the glory of God in his Son Jesus and paved the way for us to follow.
At the Transfiguration, Father, You showed
Jesus in glory, a glimpse of what His disciples
would see in His risen life.
Bless us in our humanity,
with an awareness of Your presence,
leading us to share in Your divine life
even in our daily struggle.
Help us to deepen
our knowledge of the Law and the Prophets,
channels of Your grace throughout history,
and signposts for our journey.Amen.
Christine Hardy, Reader ©
St. Margaret’s Church, Holyrood & St. George’s Church, Simister.