Posted March 19, 2019
The story of the Transfiguration (Luke 9: 28-36) occurs in the Gospel narrative just at the point where the darkness begins to thicken. Jesus has just spoken openly to the disciples, for the first time, about his death. He is heading for Jerusalem. The Transfiguration is the prelude to the painful drama that leads to the cross.
Why has this episode of dazzling, unearthly splendour been placed just at the beginning of the via crucis? Many interpreters think that the Transfiguration was originally an Easter story and that the Gospel writers have brought it forward to remind us that beyond Jesus’ suffering lies unimaginable splendour. The Transfiguration is a glimpse of the resurrection from this side of the darkness. And the lesson for us is: This vision of an existence transfigured in glory must accompany us at every step of that hard path to Calvary. We must learn to see pain and sorrow in the light of another world. We are destined to be transfigured with Jesus, our humanity saturated with God’s glory. It will indeed be ‘good for us to be there’, as St Peter blurts out in the narrative; and not only good, but marvellous, all our longings wondrously fulfilled.
But will we remember this Gospel lesson as we approach our own Calvary? Not on the strength of a single sermon, we won’t, whether me delivering it or you listening to it; nor on the strength of a million sermons. In any case, it’s not just a matter of remembering it. It’s a matter of making it colour our thoughts and our feelings. What we know in our mind must become our very heart-beat. It must become second nature to us to see everything that happens to us in the light of our sharing in God’s glory. Pain and loss must always bear something of the glow of Easter.
For this to happen, what is required of us is a profound conversion, a radical change in our habits of thought. It is not just a matter of a cheerful disposition; it goes a bit deeper than Monty Python’s Always look on the bright side of life! Light-heartedness is commendable but it won’t see us through if it is not based on anything. What we need is a passionate, deep-seated conviction, hard as flint, that this human nature of ours, with all its pain and tragedy, is destined to be transfigured in the beauty of God’s glory. Think of Job’s passionate conviction: ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth: … and in my flesh I shall see God’. That’s the conviction that must be there all the time in our everyday consciousness, it must come back to us again and again, like a screen-saver set to minimum delay. Through prayer and reflection and everyday practice we need to acquire the habit of seeing everything from the view-point of our future. Then our sufferings, our fears, our failures, our wretched frailties and sicknesses, all those awful things, will be transfigured even while we still stand in the shadow of the cross. As the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, we must ‘look to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.’
We are about to celebrate the Eucharist. The Eucharist is our momentary Transfiguration, our momentary foretaste of Easter. St Peter, in his second epistle, having just referred to his experience on the Mount of Transfiguration, urges his fellow Christians to keep their minds fixed on God’s promise. ‘You will do well to be attentive to it’, he writes, ‘as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the star of morning rises in your hearts’. May our Holy Communion today unite us more closely with Jesus, our Lord. He knows very well what it is like to be in a dark place; and he wants us to be with him where he is, in the radiance of God’s glory.
Fr Tom Deidun