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Transfiguration (sermon)

February 14, 2010

Exod 34: 29 – 35         2 Cor 3: 12 – 4:2         Luke 9: 28 – 36

Today’s text is one I have never been able to talk about without getting into things that are quite difficult to understand. So I’ll try and be as clear as I can – and you can be the judge of my success.

The subject I have been thinking about in relation to the text is “creation”. I have been thinking about what it means to think of the world as creation – rather than just nature, rather than just a random collection of events or molecules or waves of energy? What does it mean to say that I and the whole world are created by God?

At its deepest level the bible is saying that everything, not just the first moment or the big bang, but everything comes from God all the time. Not that God kicks the thing off and leaves it to do its own thing. It means that everything is constantly the result of God’s creating. The world is not random, but gift. God is not a long way away. God is closer to any thing, than that thing is to any other thing. The same goes for me. I am a creature of God in every instant. God doesn’t cause things in the way things in the world cause other things. God is not a thing in the world. God doesn’t make me act, pushing my hand or my brain like a little miniature computer playing with the molecules of my brain. God is simply the creative source of it all, who orders everything according to its purpose, in interaction with everything else.

It’s really hard not to slip into thinking of God as something like another thing either in the world or over against the world – as a partner to the world. God and the world don’t add up to two. To think like that is to go back to paganism. It is to go back behind the Jewish and Christian revolution and think of God as a builder or maker, or just a bigger version of me, but not as ‘creator’.

Here’s an image I have. It’s the image of a 3-dimensional world of people and animals and plants with light inside. It’s the image of a world where light (the uncreated light of God, we might say, while remaining aware that this is just a metaphor) lies just below the surface of it all. Not like the light of the sun, shining onto the surface of objects and being reflected off…. But inside the being of everything, as it were, just below the surface, so that occasionally, in exceptional circumstances, for whatever reason, it breaks through and shines forth – in an epiphany, which means a showing forth. It’s a metaphor. I don’t literally think there is light inside everything – at least not the kind of created light we know, like the kind that is emitted by the sun. This is a metaphor for createdness and for the presence of God the uncreated source of all.

Something like that image was a tradition in the ancient Jewish world, when people first began to think of God as creator of everything and not just a kind of very powerful builder, working on the materials already present in the world. The Jews who were first captivated by the thought of a God as not being part of the world but as the one who created everything there is, told stories about the light shining forth.

There is the story about when Moses received the 10 Commandments on the Mountain… how he came down with his face shining. Then there is today’s story about Jesus going up the mountain and when he is up there with his disciples the light shines out from him… as a kind of sign of the presence of the creator for some special purpose. … Sometimes the light shines through. Sometimes a curtain is pulled back.

In the transfiguration the disciples see a kind of vision, not just of light shining, but of a conversation between Jesus and the saints of the past (represented by Moses and Elijah) about what Jesus is about to do in his dying and his departure. The point of this vision is that something is about to happen which will render Jesus unique among all Israel past and present. The mission of the creator, coming from the very origin of all things, is about to reach its culmination, a culmination heralded for these frightened disciples by the shining out (this symbol) of uncreated light. And so a voice declares “This is my chosen Son, listen to him.”

To put it another way, in terms of our metaphor, the light from within the very structure of the universe, its origin, is about to shine in the darkness (as John’s gospel puts it), in a way that the darkness will not be able to overcome, even though he is cast out of the world. In fact the attempt to cast him out of the world is what exposes the darkness for what it is, the enemy of God.

You see the light shining on the mountaintop from Jesus, whether it be a kind of vision, or a miracle as we ordinarily talk of miracles, is surely a kind of preview of the resurrection. The man about to die in the story of the transfiguration, is the same man who has been killed in the resurrection. And his resurrection appearances are, among other things, epiphanies par excellence. Luke’s gospel links these two things.

The truth about God shines for the first disciples, from out of this living dead man. And the truth about human darkness is exposed in the light of this living dead man.

This ultimate transfiguration (that we call resurrection), this final epiphany is not one anyone can sit by and watch with wonder and amazement as a curious observer, because it catches within itself our social and political and historical life into itself. It is not something we can detach our self from. It catches us up in it. What is seen in this event is not just a pretty picture but a meeting point between God and humanity, in which humanity kills God. We meet our victim.

Let me put it another way… if you find yourself addressed in some way, by the man Jesus – through the Eucharist (ie in Christian worship) or through the witness of the church; if you share, no matter how distantly, in the epiphany of Jesus the living dead man, then you will not merely find yourself amazed or puzzled by the mystery of God’s presence (like in a vision of shining light, or a feeling of warmth or peace), you will experience yourself as forgiven. You will experience yourself as one of those who also in your everyday life is involved in destroying the work of God the creator, undermining the creative purposes of the one who holds everything in being. And simultaneously, in this same moment, you will experience yourself embraced by the grace of God-your-victim.

Transfiguration and Resurrection belong together in this sense… they both tell of the light of the creator shining out into human life… shining out of the life of Jesus Christ. But both moments of epiphany have a particular focus. The transfiguration looks forward to the crucifixion of Jesus and the Resurrection looks back to it. Their common focus is this event… the point at which the first truly human being, the first to live his life in total obedience to God and thus given in love to others, the first human (not Adam but Jesus) enters into mortal conflict with the rest of humanity. Where his love culminates inevitably in his death. There the light of eternity, of God the creator is focused. There we are not just entertained by a light show, but are captured, to share in the light. In Jesus the epiphany becomes historical… and if we are captured and caught up in that creative work of God it is historical in us also.

This is the event out of which we too are remade to be truly human. True Christianity is the history of those who respond to the historical nature of God’s creativity. It is our response to the epiphany of God which is the history of Jesus Christ, culminating in the crucifixion of Jesus.

What this means is that the mystery at the source of the universe… why there is something and not nothing – the answer to our ultimate question, the one about whom we can otherwise say nothing at all, shines through as love, as self-giving without limit. And we believe this not because we observe it… but because we are caught up in it. The one who gave himself unto death, gives himself again and is given again to us in resurrection, ie from beyond the universe – like shining of an epiphany – an epiphany which is personal communication. History as been captured, and with it we have been captured. The crucifiers may appear to be in control of history, but the epiphany is the hidden truth in which we live.

Bruce Hamill (St Clair and Green Island 14.2.10)

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