The story of the Transfiguration is a strange story; there is no getting away from it. I don’t know how you would react if you were there watching the drama unfold but I suspect my response wouldn’t have been too different from Peter’s. At least John and James had the good sense to remain schtum.
So what is the story all about, what is its meaning for us today and, why on earth does today’s Gospel reading end with the story of the healing of a boy with an evil spirit? The story of the Transfiguration and the healing of a demon possessed boy seem at first sight to be slightly at odds with each other, don’t they? But, perhaps they are not.
The Transfiguration, I think looks both forward and backwards; it is a 360 degree story. The strange presence of Moses and Elijah surely testifies to the fact that Jesus came from the Jewish faith, that as we heard last Sunday he is for the ‘glory of his people Israel’ hence the presence of Moses and Elijah, whilst also verifying his claim to be the ‘fulfilment of the law and the prophets.’ But the transfiguration also indicates that God is no longer to be veiled and that we, God’s people, no longer need to approach God with our guard up. We can come to God just as we are.
The story is also about power and radiance. Jesus, the light of the world, is literally illumined. This transfiguration literally depicts Jesus as the light of the world. It brings to life in a very physical sense his claims to be light both to the Gentiles, you and me, and his people Israel. As followers of Jesus we should allow ourselves to be transfigured and illumined.
But to what purpose? The answer to this question is in the second part of the Gospel reading. Jesus is transfigured so that he can fulfil his mission of salvation. He is physically and spiritually illuminated and transformed so that he can with power and authority enter into the chaos of the world, and this is the rationale behind the second part of the reading. Jesus first post transfiguration act is to heal a boy who we are told is demon possessed.
If we are to follow in the path of Christ we need to first allow ourselves to be transformed and then we need to get out into the chaos and disorder of the world and work for the world’s healing. We can do so in the sure and certain knowledge that we have been equipped to do so by God. Our efforts don’t necessarily need to be dramatic. Let me illustrate with a story.
Fifty or sixty years ago an incident took place that changed the course of human, and salvation, history. A small coloured boy had gone to work in a Johannesburg hospital with his desperately poor, and in many ways, unloved mother. The mother worked in the hospital as a cleaner. She was very much a second class citizen. The boy, being of a sensitive disposition, felt great sorrow for his mother’s state and real anger at a system that institutionalised prejudice and injustice. Just then a tall man wearing clerical clothes approached his mother, smiled, asked how she was and doffed his hat. The man was called Trevor Huddleston and he was white, English and a priest who had gone to work in South Africa because he was appalled at the injustice of apartheid. The young boy, Desmond Tutu, had never seen a white man talk to, let alone smile at his mother before. From that moment the boy decided to find out about the God that Trevor Huddleston represented and, the rest as they say is history. Is it too much of a stretch to suggest that Trevor Huddleston was a transfigured figure, the physical embodiment of the Christian faith? Did he illuminate the world for the young Desmond? I think so. Did Trevor Huddleston do anything dramatic? No he simply smiled and offered a common courtesy. He was able to do so because he had been transformed from within. His faith allowed him to see the world and its people through God’s eyes.
As we start our journey into Lent, we too should ask God to transform us from within and then to illuminate and transfigure us, so that we too can point people towards a better future. As we increase in holiness, we become the sort of people who can bring real and lasting healing. We don’t need to become superheroes, but just ordinary transfigured Christians.
Let’s leave the last words to St. Paul:
‘Therefore since we have such hope, we are very bold…….whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. And we with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory.’
Let us pray:
Lord by the power of your Holy Spirit come and transform us from within so that we may present you with boldness to the world, for its freedom and healing, in the name of your Son our Saviour we pray,’ Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown