The Transfiguration. An amazing event in the life of Jesus. Before the eyes of Peter, James and John Jesus is transfigured on the mountain top. The disciples see Moses and Elijah speaking to Jesus, about his coming exodus in Jerusalem. We could take the easy way out and simply contemplate what a glorious episode this is, revealing as it does the majesty of Jesus as Son of God. I don’t think we should do just that, though. If we leave it at that, then we can distance ourselves from Jesus and not receive the message of challenge that this represents to us.
The Transfiguration is, for us, a challenge to let ourselves be transformed also. It is a message that the One who was transfigured on the mountain top is the One who transforms our lives, too. The symbols of the presence of God in this story- the change of Jesus’ appearance to dazzling white, the voice which speaks out of the cloud, declaring “This is my Son, whom I have chosen-listen to him!” – are striking, even frightening. We do not know where responding to God’s challenge will take us. That is also somewhat frightening, in a way.
Let’s pick up on that theme by noticing that where scripture refers to the “exodus”, in this case in the conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijah, it means the journey to the fulfilment of the purposes of God. So the emphasis is on Jesus fulfilling God’s purposes by journeying to Jerusalem, to death, and to resurrection. Please note the word purposes rather than the word “plan”. To use the word “purposes” emphasizes a belief that God’s purposes for salvation of the world were served by Jesus following God’s way of love and justice perfectly right to the end. To use the word “plan” emphasizes a belief that Jesus’ tortured death on the cross was the absolutely essential way in which God intended to save the world. More on this as we move on through the seasons of Lent and Easter.
The Transfiguration is, amongst other things, one more indication in scripture of the hope for our own transformation. Jesus’ union with God in this episode points to the truth that we can grow in union with God too. To draw near to God is to be transformed. For us, drawing near to God is a life’s work. We can embark on that journey with enthusiasm and hope, because our God has told us: “I will never leave you or forsake you”, and “I am with you to the end of the age.” All of us experience times when we wonder whether God is with us or not. We have the assurance of scripture that God is indeed with us, whether we are aware of it or not.
Of course, we all know the difficult episode which follows on directly from the story of the transfiguration in Luke’s gospel. It is the story of the distraught father bringing his son, who is suffering from what we would most likely label epilepsy, to Jesus for healing. We are aware of the unsettling account of the disciples’ inability to cure the boy. Jesus speaks words which are uncomfortable for us about the faithlessness of the people, before he effects the cure. How interesting that he later tells his disciples “this kind can only come out by prayer and fasting”.
Looking at this from our point of view, I doubt very much that any of us would want to be drawn into any such situation. However, surely there is learning for us in Jesus’ indication that closeness to God is necessary for us to engage in the best possible ministry. This leads us to the subject of prayer. Yes, we’re all busy. Some people are even busier in retirement that they were when at work, with family and community responsibilities which are indeed very important.
Prayer. I remember reading that John Wesley said that he was so busy that he had to pray for 3 hours a day. I can only think of one other person who matched that, and that was Mahatma Gandhi. OK, so we need our sleep and we’re not getting in that deep. But we cannot draw near to God without and active prayer life. A life which involves reading scripture, and private and corporate prayer. It is this that sustains our ministry- and we are all engaged in ministry. In every part of our lives, we live out our faith- whether we do it well or perhaps at times not quite so well. Prayer is the breath, the oxygen, of our life with God.
Does the mere mention of prayer unsettle us, with worries about our ability to pray properly? We need to understand, with mind and heart, that there isn’t a “proper” way to pray. God wants us to come with open hearts, not trying to hide anything because we are uncertain of God’s welcome. God wants us to share our life with God as we do with a friend. God wants us to walk the road with God right beside us. There is no more important message than that we are loved and accepted by God, and that Jesus demonstrated this with his whole life, death and resurrection. We have a really strong tendency to live hiding parts of ourselves from God, believing that they are unacceptable.
This is where the message about transformation is so important. Those parts of us which we are concerned “don’t measure up” are parts which God can reach and transform, so creating greater abundant life within us. That new life within us automatically brings a change for the better in all our relationships. A hunger for God is a hunger for a transformed life, in which we see the world, other people, and ourselves with new eyes. We have that new perspective because we are being made people of peace, people who are pure of heart, people who can comfort others because God has indeed comforted us. We cannot tell where this road of discipleship will lead us, but we can be certain that God is beside us all the way. Thanks be to God.