Today, as we come to Transfiguration Sunday, we have one of those events which can really challenge our modern thinking. Yet it is here, in this story so simply related, that God is offering us a glimpse of a deeper reality. As Matthew describes the event, Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John, and went up a high mountain where he "was transfigured before them. It was an event to evoke awe, and perhaps even fear.
What are we to make of it? If there had been a TV camera in place on the mountain, what would it have captured? We can't be sure about that; but Jesus himself called it a 'vision'. It was not just a matter of what the eyes could see, but of what one's spirit might perceive. As Douglas Hare put it, "God grants the disciples the power to see what would have been invisible to mortal perception," rather like Moses at the burning bush. William Willimon wrote that “life is more than a psychological problem to be solved; it's "a mystery to be enjoyed." Perhaps that's one of the helpful things about church, that here is one place where we may have the courage to explore that mystery.
Mountains are favourite places for meeting with God, and there are any number of precedents for that. The cloud says 'there is mystery here – a God mystery. Don't push it." Moses and Elijah are representatives of the Law and the Prophets respectively, suggesting that Jesus combines and fulfils them both. More than that, the transfiguration is preparing us for the cross, and the glory of resurrection which lay beyond it. The next time we meet the three disciples will be in the Garden of Gethsemane. As one person put it,
"Jesus is presented not as non-human but as a transformed human who will be the pioneer and perfecter of those who will share his heavenly existence."
In Andrew Lloyd Weber's musical 'Cats', Old Deuteronomy, the oldest cat, quotes a line from TS Elliot which is worth repeating.
'We had the experience, but we missed the meaning.'
How often is that true. How often we have an experience, or have something happen to us, and we miss its significance, often because we are trying too hard to keep it.
There are times when God opens a window of understanding of a deeper reality, a special insight into the significance of Jesus Christ, or an opportunity to draw nearer to him in devotion and service and insight. They may be there but for a moment, yet they leave their mark indelibly on our lives. When we are open to new possibilities, without limiting God to our assumptions, then our lives are immeasurably enriched. Thank God for each glimpse of a deeper reality.
Clive W Ayre