Seeing the Glory

There are a few dates on the calendar that most everyone can identify. December 25th is one. July 1st is another.  And February 14th. Everyone knows what February 14th is ... right? Transfiguration Sunday!  It’s the day you give out boxes of Transfiguration chocolates and maybe a card for someone you love?  Or ... you had something else in mind? You missed buying your 'Transfiguration' cards and sweets this year? You were busy with something called 'Valentine's Day' instead?

Don't feel badly.  These two days overlap each other about once every seven years so you could easily miss it.  

I think the story of Jesus’ transfiguration is one of the great stories in the Gospels and all three Synoptics tell it, each adding their own details.

The common elements are this: a trip up a mountain with just Jesus and his three confidants – Peter, James, and John; a luminous vision of Jesus who gets a visit from Elijah and Moses; a voice from heaven; fear on the part of the three disciples; and a strange ending with talk about secrecy and death.

A detail unique to Matthew is 17.6-7 is that in response to the heavenly voice the three fall to the ground in terror.  Jesus, however comes to them, touches them and says (gently I imagine), ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’

A detail unique to Mark is Peter’s response in 9.5-6:  ‘he did not know what to say, for they were terrified.’   Trust Peter to speak even when he doesn’t know what he’s saying; this will become apparent later on at the Last Supper when Peter once again makes a promise he cannot keep.

A detail unique to Luke in 9.31 is the content of Jesus’, Elijah’s, and Moses’ conversation.  ‘They were speaking about Jesus’ departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.’

Unique, yet harmonious on the most important detail: this is a revelation of the glory of Jesus Christ.  The disciples know Jesus as teacher and healer but here they see his divine glory as well.  Stay close to Jesus, the gospel writers are saying, and you may be dazzled.

I don’t blame Peter for not knowing what to say.  In the presence of the Holy One, words often fail.  We are sometimes better served by our poets, painters, and songwriters who can imagine the inexpressible.

PRAYER:   ‘O thou great Chief, light a candle in my heart, that I might see what is therein and sweep the rubbish from thy dwelling place.  Amen.            [An African schoolgirl’s prayer in The Doubleday Prayer Collection] - Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.