2 Peter 1. 16 – 19
Luke 9. 28 – 36
The Feast of the Transfiguration
It might feel a bit like we’re in the midst of an endless series of Sundays after Trinity. We’re up to number nine today, and there are quite a few more to go.
This whole period of ordinary time can sometimes feel just that – a bit ordinary. At least the two great cycles of Christmas and Easter help us feel like we’re going somewhere – like we’re moving forwards towards a goal.
But in this long period of ordinary time there are of course still moments that may catch our attention, and refocus our gaze on the glory of Jesus.
Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration, recounting, as we heard in our Gospel reading, the moment when Jesus took some of his disciples up the mountain, and his glory was revealed to them.
And today’s feast marks the beginning of a new cycle of sorts in our year.
Traditionally the transfiguration of Jesus is held to have taken place forty days before his crucifixion. Forty days, of course, is a significant period in our Church calendar.
There are forty days between Christmas and Candlemas; between Ash Wednesday and Easter; and between Easter and the Ascension.
And there are forty days between today’s feast, and Holy Cross Day. Today, when the glory of Jesus is revealed in dazzling light, leads forty days later to the darkest moment of human history: his suffering and death on the cross.
And it’s this interplay between the cross and glory that characterises today’s feast.
Immediately before this transfiguration episode, Jesus has called his disciples together to send them out to proclaim the kingdom. But he leaves them with a warning.
He says, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. … If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
And in this glorious moment up the mountain, just eight days later, the cross is set before us. Notice that Peter and his companions are “weighed down with sleep;” a prefiguring, perhaps, of their failure to stay awake and watch with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
When they finally come to themselves they see Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. But what are they talking about? Luke says “they were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”
They’re speaking about the cross. And they show the absolute centrality of the cross – that the law of Moses and the prophecies of Elijah and his kind – the entire history of the people of God – will be fulfilled by what Jesus is about to do.
The bright and dazzling light is very different from the total darkness that overcomes the land when Jesus dies. But even in this great light, there is something of the same tension.
Some light is essential for us to see our way and avoid danger; but too much light can blind us. I’m sure we’ve all experienced that moment of turning on a light in the middle of the night, or stepping out from darkness into the midday sun, when we’ve been temporarily blinded by so much light. That’s the kind of “dazzling light” that Luke speaks of.
In a horrible coincidence, the 6th of August, the Feast of the Transfiguration, is also the anniversary of the first use of a nuclear bomb in war, in Hiroshima. The terrible intensity of the light of the detonation, visible for miles and miles way, leaves only shadows behind it, of people and buildings burnt into nothingness.
The cross is certainly set before us today. But we encounter it within the vision of the glory of Jesus. And we are reminded that wherever the cross is, there is resurrection too.
The glimpse of glory that the disciples witness today strengthens them to withstand the trials and torments that lie before them.
As St Peter said in our first reading, they didn’t follow “cleverly devised myths,” some sort of abstract idea, when they took up their cross and followed Jesus. They were allowed to be “eyewitnesses of his majesty.” They themselves heard God’s voice from heaven.
The presence of God in the cloud renews the promise that God will not forsake them on this journey. Here is the cloud that led the people of Israel safely through their exodus from captivity to freedom; here is the voice that came from the heavens at Jesus’ baptism: “You are my Son, the Beloved.”
God is with Jesus, and all of them, as he leads them through their own exodus in Jerusalem.
God spoke to Jesus at his baptism, but today he speaks to us: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” he commands from the cloud.
As we enter this new cycle of the Church’s year, this ‘forgotten’ forty days, may we be attentive to the glory of Jesus in our lives. May we seek his transfiguring presence in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, in our relationships, in our community.
And may we recognise his presence especially in those parts of our lives that are most in need of a glimpse of his glory, and the transformation that comes from life in him.
This eyewitness account is shared with us, so that we too may know that God is with us in our journey; that the same glory revealed to the disciples is offered to us, if we take up our cross, and follow the Glorious One. Amen.