“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty,” (2 Peter 1:16).
If you were to arrive at this church very early in the morning or in some great cathedral somewhere in Europe do you know what you would see? Dark and colourless windows. But if you were to stick around for a bit and patiently wait for the sun to come up you would suddenly be struck with awe and wonder at the beauty of the stained glass windows as they radiate with the fire of the sun. Each one beautiful, colourful, bright.
I wonder if that wasn’t something like the experience that Peter, James, and John had on the mountain top that day with Jesus? There they were, the four of them, up the mountain and do you know what Jesus was doing? He was praying—surely a theme you’ve noticed over these last few weeks. Prayer—that intimate relationship with the Father—provides the atmosphere for Jesus’ ministry. It will not be any less important for the ministry that he wants to continue through us!
Now, mountains are important in Scripture as places where people meet with the Lord. You might think of Abraham and Isaac on Mt Moriah, Moses on Mt. Sinai, or Elijah on Mt. Carmel. The mountain top is where people are granted a revelatory glimpse of the glory of God. You’ll notice too that in much church architecture there is an ascent at the time of the Eucharist from the nave, up the chancel steps to the sanctuary, a point we’ll return to in a moment. At any rate, the setting for the gospel reading is Luke’s way of tipping his hand—Peter, James, and John are in for something rather unexpected.
And while Jesus was praying, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” Suddenly Moses and Elijah appear and are speaking with Jesus about his departure, that is, the whole movement of his death, resurrection, and ascension. The presence of Moses and Elijah here testify to the reality that all of the law and the prophets—that is the Old Testament—points to and is fulfilled in Jesus.
You might recall how Luke ends his account of the gospel. The risen Jesus meets two of his disciples as they are walking to Emmaus, still grieving the loss of their dear friend Jesus, and they recognize him not! Until, until Jesus does two things. First, he opens the Scriptures and, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself,” (24:27). That is to say, we never meet the risen and living Jesus apart from the Scriptures that are fulfilled in him! Second, and this is a point we’ll return to in a moment, “he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them,” (24:30).
Then, and only then, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.
Returning now to the mountaintop and the glory in which Jesus and Moses and Elijah shared, Luke tells us that the disciples saw all of this. In fact, Peter wrote about it in the epistle that we heard read this morning: “For [Jesus] received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain,” (2 Pe 1:17-18). Peter, James, and John were, “eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pe 1:16).
What the three disciples saw shining through the very human flesh of their friend and teacher, Jesus, that day was the glory of God. Not a light like that produced by the sun but that uncreated divine light, “Light from Light” as we confess in the Nicene Creed. Jesus is the Light of God but if this Light is not a physical light then it means that the disciples could not have seen it with their carnal eyes. What was required was a different sort of vision, they needed new spiritual eyes. Not eyes that they could simply decide to open according to their own will. They needed the Holy Spirit to give them knew eyes.
Indeed, throughout the gospels Jesus gave many blind people back their physical eyesight, but now here he gives to the disciples spiritual eyesight. It is this spiritual eyesight that they received when the Holy Spirit descended upon them in the cloud. Perhaps you would like the Holy Spirit to refresh your own spiritual eyesight that your faith in Christ might grow deeper or be renewed. Let us together ask the Holy Spirit for this gift!
Let us always be asking the Holy Spirit to awaken us fully to the beauty of Jesus Christ!
I saw a wonderful video this week of a baby born with severe hearing loss in both ears who at 7 weeks old receives his first hearing aids. He cries for a moment as they are inserted into his ears—it was new and terrifying no doubt—but then the doctor turns them on and little Lachlan hears the voice of his parents and grandparents for the very first time. His eyes widen and then a big smile comes across his face as he is awakened to a new dimension of the world around him and he is filled with joy and wonder!
In a similar way the spiritual eyes and ears of the disciples were opened to behold the glory of Christ and to hear the voice from the cloud that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” And suddenly they who were moments before weighed down with sleep, weighed down as we can be with the cares of the world, were wide awake. And they experienced for the very first time a brand new dimension of reality, one for which they had no prior reference at all—the glory of God in human flesh and thus human flesh taken up into the glory of God, forever.
Surely this is another facet of the Transfiguration that we ought not miss:
in the divine light bursting forth from the fleshly body of Jesus we along with the disciples are given a glimpse of the whole world taken up and transfigured by Christ.
As the Apostle John wrote in one of his letters: “It doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him,” (1 John 3:2). We too are being transfigured with Christ. This is not something that we are always aware of but it is the result of the Holy Spirit at work in us.
And in giving us a share in that divine uncreated light Jesus permits us to not only see God but to become, “participants of the divine nature,” (2 Pe 1:4) as Peter wrote elsewhere in that same letter we heard read from this morning. I said earlier that the goal of the Christian life is to see God. Well actually it would be better put that the goal of the Christian life, of all life, is union with God.
United with him in Jesus Christ, united with him in the sacraments, united with him in the suffering of the Cross, united with him in the glory of his resurrection.
Not just us but grass and trees and fish and bees and grain and grapes as well. No part of creation, and no moment of time lies outside the power of the Holy Spirit, who is Lord, to change it from glory to glory (Michael Ramsey). In the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ, in Jesus Christ “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.” And we are witnesses of beauty of these things!
Just this is the meaning of the Eucharist. The bread and the wine represent all things gathered unto God by Christ Jesus. As we confess in the Book of Common Prayer, “All things come of Thee O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.” And we pray that God would pour down the divine fire of His Holy Spirit upon these gifts that the bread and the wine, fruit of the earth and of our labour, might be permeated with the divine light and become for us the body and blood of Christ. In the Eucharist we behold a union between God and created matter, a union established in the flesh of Christ, and this union is realized in us when we are baptized and receive Holy Communion. As we consume the Body of Christ we become the Body of Christ—God and man united in the flesh of our Lord. And we live; by the power of the Holy Spirit, we live.
And in all of this may our gaze be drawn always and ever to Jesus Christ and him alone (9:36a). To the Cross about which Moses and Elijah were speaking with him. This is the true scandal of the Transfiguration and of our transfiguration with Christ, that there is no path to union with God that does not travel through the Cross. For it is only here that Christ liberates us and the whole wide world from the powers of sin and death for the freedom of life with God. That like those stained glass windows, the Holy Spirit might fill us with the light of Christ—a light not of our own possessing—illuminating us and the whole world with the glory of God. Amen.