Feast of the Transfiguration
I hope you all will forgive me if, in the midst of the chaos of a major move, I essentially (i.e., there are a couple of revisions) repost the text from my last reflection on Luke's narrative of the Transfiguration:
Luke 9:28 - 36 - link to NRSV text
Have you seen Disney's Beauty and the Beast? That's a film that has a transfiguration; sometimes I imagine the glorious appearance of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus in this passage as being a little like the Beast's transfiguration at the end of the film, when he is lifted by mysterious forces and enveloped in light that erupts out from him at the moment of transformation. Hollywood loves that kind of stuff, the special effects moments that signal the climax of the story.
Except that the Transfiguration in Luke is NOT the climax of the story. It's a little more like the moment of Princess Fiona's transformation in Shrek -- there's all of this awe-inspiring light and swelling music that leads us to expect a Beauty and the Beast-style transformation, but it's a setup to subvert our expectations. The light subsides to reveal "true love's true form," and we discover that true love's true form isn't one of conventional beauty and royalty, but is one that makes Fiona perfectly suited for a life of companionship with Shrek in the swamp -- a life that our journey through the world of the story teaches us has the potential for a lot more fun and love than life in a palace does.
This is a message in the story of Jesus' transfiguration in all three gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) in which the story appears. This moment of dazzling glory comes not at the end of the gospel, but in the middle. It is not the climactic moment in which Jesus' true nature is decisively revealed for all to see. After the light show subsides (and in Luke, after the bat qol, the divine voice, proclaims Jesus as God's chosen), Jesus goes back to looking just as he has while they've been traveling around Galilee, teaching, healing, and setting people free from the powers that bound them and shut them out from community. The disciples tell no one of what they have seen.
When the disciples are ready to proclaim their message to the world, at the very center of it will be a moment that comes much later in the story, the moment in which Jesus' true nature is revealed and lifted up for any to see. The revelation of Jesus' true nature will come on the Cross. Luke does something really interesting in his rendering of the Transfiguration story that, I think, makes this extremely clear. In verse 31, Luke tells us that Moses and Elijah appear in glory and speak of Jesus' "departure, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem." The Greek word used for "departure" here is exodus.
Luke is too careful a writer for this to be a coincidence. In having Moses and Elijah point here, less than half way through the gospel, to what Jesus will accomplish in Jerusalem as an "exodus," he is telling us very clearly that the revelation that will free God's people is not the spectacular, not the light show and the heavenly voice. The mountain of the Transfiguration, the moment in which Jesus is alone with his friends and his glory is recognized by all present, is a setting in which Jesus' message cannot be communicated fully. The glory of God and our Exodus from slavery comes in Jesus' path of self-giving, of answering violence and scorn with forgiveness and love, and the ultimate expression of that is Jesus' love and forgiveness from the Cross. That's the revelation the God of Israel, the God who led the people of Israel out from the Pharoah's slavery in Egypt, vindicated as true by raising Jesus from the dead, so declaring him as righteous. Luke's narrative of Jesus' transfiguration points toward the Cross as God's decisive intervention to take a group of slaves and free them to be a people -- one people -- doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God in mindfulness of God's grace in accomplishing our exodus from slavery.
Thanks be to God!
Blessings on you, Dylan...I'd not thought to trawl your archives, and was feeling as if I was the only person in the whole world preaching on the Transfiguration, when I have a nice neat sermon all done and dusted on the John lection, thanks to the Ordinary Time book. Also, unbelievably, my children had challenged me to fit either Shrek or Muppet Treasure Island into the sermon for tomorrow (as they feel I really ought to be in the living room watching silly films with them. So do I for that matter!). So, bullseye! 3 hearty and grateful cheers for the inspiration again..and I'm so pleased you'll be blogging RCL from Advent. Excellent :-)
Posted by: Kathryn | Aug 5, 2006 10:37:15 AM