The story of the transfiguration is a story about a vision and a dream. It is a story where the power of the divine broke into the ordinary world to give hope and inspiration.
The disciples were in need of such inspiration. Just before this story, Jesus had revealed to the disciples that he is to suffer, be rejected, killed and resurrected. Far from catching any vision or hope at that point, the disciples are horrified. Jesus reminds them of the cost of discipleship: if any want to follow Jesus, let them renounce their self-centeredness. Those who play it safe will perish; those who give their lives for him and the gospel will be saved. These would have been hard words to hear.
But six days later, something happens. Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a mountain. There he is “transfigured”, or changed in form (Luke), or metamorphosed (Mark and Matthew). He appears in “dazzling white” just as Moses did when he had been “talking with God” (Exodus 34:29), a sure sign of God’s presence.
Let us pause and consider the phrase “he was transfigured before them”. The word “transfigured,” is very important. It comes from a familiar Greek word that is known to us today: “metamorphosis.” It means to completely change or transform such as a cocoon transforms into a butterfly or a tulip bulb transforms into a glorious blossom. Jesus was transformed into something closer to God, and along with the appearance of Elijah and Moses, the disciples experienced a glimpse of the divine. A cloud, traditionally symbolic of God’s presence, appears and a proclamation is spoken by the divine voice, echoing the words of Jesus baptism, “This is my son, the chosen one, listen to him”. Jesus is revealed to be Son of God, the chosen one. It is an epiphany moment. But the vision ends suddenly, and normal life with all its problems is resumed in the following verses.
We can imagine that this was a powerful experience for the disciples, a happening that transcended the ordinary space-time dimensions of Luke’s narrative sequence. Like the baptism and temptation of Jesus in earlier chapters, the divine has once again been revealed.
I like to think that the disciples were touched by this vision, a vision that lifted them out of the mundane and gave them to courage to abandon their former dreams of a Messiah who would reestablish Israelite rule over the land and instead keep going along the road to Jerusalem and death. I like to think it also kept them going after the death of Jesus, in the dark days before the resurrection. And I like to think that vision gave at least some of them the wisdom to lead the newly fledged church, and to face martyrdom with courage when it came upon them.
What is the relevance for this is story from two thousand years ago? What can we draw out from its message of inspiration and transformation?
All of us have those moments when something was transformed for us. Our wedding day, the birth of a child, the recovery of a loved one from illness, thin places where we become aware of the presence of God and find a glimpse of eternity. These are the sorts of things that we find uplifting and inspiring as we remember them. All of these things can be moments that are truly splendid, where we feel raised above our ordinary feelings, moments where we become aware of God’s presence, moments that shine within us when we remember them.
In this story, Luke is presenting us with a story that relates to every human journey. Remembering moments of transformation in our lives can inspire us to keep going, to plan for the future, to find hope and strength. They are powerful forces in shaping our lives. They connect us with people, places and with God. Though we might lose the immediate power of the event, the memory can help us shape and transform our lives. They help us to plan and to dream.
Dreams are a necessary component of life. Without dreams, life can become meaningless and devoid of energy. Dreams give substance to existence. They allow us to go beyond the mediocre to the inspirational. Dreams activate within us a willingness to embrace higher ideals worth striving for.
The power of God’s transformation undergirds the world and that has already made the cross, once an instrument of death, the source of hope for all Christians. We must remember that through the cross, pain and sorrow were transformed into a luminous vision of hope and confidence in the future.
We have the power in our hands to offer this luminous vision of hope and confidence in the future to those who currently see no bright future. Whether it is through feeding hungry people, providing a safe place to meet and socialize, or inspiring someone to something greater, we can make the vision of God’s kingdom a real and infectious thing.
Reflective Prayer (from Spill the Beans)
May our imaginations inspire us,
lift us from the mundane
that we might rise above the clay
and find ourselves within touching distance
of what is eternal and sacred.
May our eyes unfold for us
\the shift on the horizon
that reveals how thin a place this is,
only a whisper away
from the breath of God.
May our minds be unbound
and dare see beyond the rules of religion
that we might invite
the One who is beyond all things
to call us into your adventure.
May our prayers deepen us
not with familiar words and rubrics
but the silences they find
unable to be filled
for they invite beyond doctrine.
May our faith stretch us,
calling us from moribund traditions
towards the journey into God
where we have not yet been
and where the church dares us not to go.
And in such a place
what is yet to be revealed.
Written by Rev Elizabeth Raine
Elizabeth is minister at Tuggeranong Uniting, beginning her ministry here in December 2018.
Over the years, she has had a number of diverse and interesting placements, such as a school chaplaincy, a tenancy worker with UnitingCare, a congregational minister, a lecturer at UTC, a Presbytery minister, and as an Intentional Interim minister.More from Rev Elizabeth Raine