Our Lectionary ensures that we encounter the Transfiguration twice this year. On the Sunday Next Before Lent (14th February 2021) and on the Feast of the Transfiguration (6th August 2021).
The lectionary readings set for 14th February 2021 are:
2 Kings 2: 1-12, 2 Corinthians 4: 3-6; and Mark 9: 2-9.
The first of these readings is the story of Elijah’s transfiguration in the moments before his death. In 2 Corinthians, Paul talks of a kind of transfiguration in our hearts as we see Christ revealed in his glory. Mark’s short account of the Transfiguration, places Jesus, Moses and Elijah together at the top of a mountain.
Not in 2 Corinthians but elsewhere in the letters attributed to him, Paul struggles to impress on us the nature and importance of Jesus as God’s Son. In Colossians 1:15-20, Paul writes:
Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Paul and others like him were doing Christ-centered theology for the first time. They had met with the risen Jesus, some had lived alongside him for at least three years, and they were all struggling to put into words and ideas the reality of what they had encountered.
Paul talks, in that letter to the Colossians, of Jesus as the image of the invisible God, as someone in whom the whole Godhead dwells bodily. … He has begun to realise just exactly who Jesus was and is, and it excites him. And in that passage from Colossians it’s as though, words tumble out as Paul realises just what it all means. We can almost feel his longing that his readers will understand too.
The story of the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-9) is part of the same kind of process going on for Peter. Up to this point, he has seen Jesus healing, he has felt his own poverty and sinfulness alongside the richness of Jesus character, he has listened to Jesus speaking, he has seen his wisdom and listened to his parables and gradually it has become clearer to him that Jesus is more than just a special person, but try as he might he can’t get his head around it all. In the verses immediately preceding our Gospel reading he has hesitantly voiced what is inside his head. “You are the Messiah, the Holy one of God,” he says to Jesus.
But ultimately he still isn’t sure what he means … and then comes the Transfiguration. He sees Jesus and Moses and Elijah together and he believes he’s worked it out. He places Jesus on the highest pedestal that his mind can comprehend. Jesus is the equal of Moses and Elijah, perhaps the greatest prophet ever. And for a Jew, that was saying something!
And Peter wants to build booths, small shrines, little churches. His leader, his master, is in his mind the equal of Moses, the equal of Elijah. This needs to be marked.
And then he hears God speak: … “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him.” Listen only to him.
Peter discovers that he has not gone far enough. His own mind just was not big enough to comprehend who Jesus was, who Jesus is. The truth was just so much bigger than he ever thought.
And we are left with the same revelation – Jesus is bigger than our own ideas of him. God is beyond our comprehension and we will only begin to understand God, to relate to God if we relate to Jesus. And we will only do that if we allow ourselves to see God’s revelation of Jesus. The lesson of the Transfiguration is that creating our own image of Jesus, of God, achieves little. All it does is bring God down to our own level. And depending on our own perspective we create a Christ who is meek and mild, or a Christ who is white rather than a Jew, a red-haired handsome specimen of humanity; or perhaps we might create Christ as the freedom fighter, the revolutionary, the liberator, or we see him as the social reformer.
“No,” says God, “Jesus is bigger than all of this – he is my Son. You can’t pin him down. You can’t domesticate him. He is there to challenge you, to save you, to draw the best out of you. Listen to him.”
We are intended to be dazzled by the light of Jesus face. To be drawn to him, and to see the world fade into dimness. And in that encounter, God expects us to be changed, to be renewed, to be challenged, to be shaken out of our present categories, our concepts of the way things are.
By meeting with Christ, we begin to understand God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit – but more than that – we are challenged to move out with hope into our world, believing that God’s kingdom in Jesus is all that other’s really need, looking to bring that kingdom into being, looking for the signs of God’s presence in the world around us. Longing to serve our Lord, longing to be changed still more. Longing to be Transfigured in our encounter with Jesus.
For as Paul says in our reading from 2 Corinthians:
“It is the God who in creation said “Let there be Light!” “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has also shone into our own hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.“