Sunday, 6 March 2011

The Transfiguration - Matthew 17:1-9

Glory.. what does the word glory mean to you? Can anyone give me a definition?

I have heard it said that Glory is a symbol of light, of transformation, and of the direct revelation of God’s presence. All of these were present at the Transfiguration.

This time of transfiguration is a mountain-top experience, a moment when it feels like the veil between heaven and earth has drawn very thin… I wonder whether you have experienced that? Perhaps when out on a mountain top, or when walking in the countryside, or driving and seeing a sunset, or  in a time of prayer? Or in church? Has anyone experienced a time of glory?

It is a strange thing the transfiguration because it seems to have many echoes of the story of the crucifixion – especially in Matthew’s gospel:

Matthew has the centurion at the foot of the cross saying ‘Truly this was the Son of God’ just like the voice from heaven at the transfiguration.  Matthew also has three female disciples at the foot of the cross –Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee just as there are three male disciples at the transfiguration – Peter, James and John.   

But there are also four dramatic contrasts between the story of the transfiguration and of the cross:
Firstly Jesus takes his friends with him, up a mountain for his transfiguration.  For his crucifixion Jesus is taken by strangers to a hill having been abandoned by his friends.   

Secondly at the crucifixion Jesus’ clothes are stripped off and squabbled over: at the transfiguration Jesus’ clothes are turned shiny white. 

Thirdly the transfiguration is full of light – the light comes not just from Jesus’ clothes but also from his face.   His face shone like the sun - according to Matthew - and even the cloud out of which the voice from heaven cam was ‘bright’.  The crucifixion on the hand was full of darkness.  Luke tells us that at the actual point of Jesus’ death ‘there was darkness over the whole land’ and the sun’s light failed. 

Fourthly at the transfiguration there are two saints standing beside Jesus: at the crucifixion hang two robbers.
In the story in Luke’s gosepel, we are told that Jesus was glorified at the transfiguration and that the disciples woke to see his glory.  But Jesus is also glorified – in a different – even opposite way -at his crucifixion.

It is if we are looking at two pictures of the same thing with similar outlines but contrasting even opposite colours.  If one scene were sketched on a transparency and placed over the other many of its lines would disappear.   What is the significance of this?  

Well the two scenes represent the extremes of human experience.  One speaks of nakedness and mockery, nails and blood, suffering and loneliness, torture and death.   The other makes visible the presence of God within a human being.   So Jesus embodies the whole spectrum of human possibility in one person.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons why he is always been so attractive and inspiring.   He shows forth in his own person both the depths of pain and anguish which a human being can know and –what we all long for – transformation to a state beyond pain and anguish.   Jesus it the great illustration of both pain and hope.  At his transfiguration he is humanity transformed and humanity glorified.  But he can only transform humanity through his crucifixion as demonstrated by his subsequent resurrection. 

I wonder whether if you thought about the times that you have felt closest to God, or when you have felt transformed as a person.. are those moments like the crucifixion or like the transfiguration? I think for me I have some of both… but perhaps the most powerful are the times that were painful.

Here finally are some words from the author Michael Willson: ‘The cross is not a rescue like the Exodus from an evil situation but salvation in and through a evil situation, first confronting it, then bearing it, then transforming it.  It is as if evil is the raw material out of which new life is forged.  The news of the gospel is not moral perfection nor sinlessness, it is forgiveness.’  Through forgiveness and love evil is reversed and can be changed into good.  ‘Jesus is less interested in the causes of evil but in its transformation’ 


  1. Hi
    I thought that this video about the Transfiguration might interest you.

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