How things really are

Feast of the Transfiguration

Exodus 34.29-35

Psalm 99

2 Corinthians 3.12-4:2

Luke 9.28-36

Sunday 27 February

How things really are                                                  ©Suzanne Grimmett

Transfiguration                   

by Malcolm Guite

For that one moment, ‘in and out of time’,
On that one mountain where all moments meet,
The daily veil that covers the sublime
In darkling glass fell dazzled at his feet.
There were no angels full of eyes and wings
Just living glory full of truth and grace.
The Love that dances at the heart of things
Shone out upon us from a human face
And to that light the light in us leaped up,
We felt it quicken somewhere deep within,
A sudden blaze of long-extinguished hope
Trembled and tingled through the tender skin.
Nor can this blackened sky, this darkened scar
Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are

It could be said that Jesus came to show us things as they really are.

This feast of transfiguration is about this revealing. It is a revealing of who God is because of who Jesus is. It is simultaneously a revealing of the violence of our ways which cause unspeakable suffering and deform and damage God’s good creation.

We can take heart in these words from Guite’s poem;

Nor can this blackened sky, this darkened scar
Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are

It is under a ‘blackened sky’ that we gather today- both literally with the rain and damaging floods- but also metaphorically we sense the darkness with the invasion of Ukraine and the destabilisation of international relations. Many of us will have read reports of the violence of the conflict, seen images of thousands protesting in Russia and witnessed footage or recordings of the invasion in progress and the heart-wrenching outcry from the people of Ukraine.

It may seem like this is what is real; that apparently humanity can only resolve its problems with violence, that those in power will continue to oppress and not hear the cries of the poor, and that money dictates who controls the world and wields that power.

God is frequently co-opted into such a version of reality. We manufacture a god made in our own image who judges harshly those who offend him and rains down fire and destruction on his enemies. On this Feast of Transfiguration the blaze is kindled of the flickering but sure hope that God is not a god of violence and condemnation but of forgiveness and peace. More than that, transfiguration reveals the truth that the violent powers of this world can never extinguish or subdue ‘the Love that dances at the heart of things.’

The other date that the Feast of Transfiguration can be celebrated in our liturgical calendar is on Hiroshima Day, a day when the atom, that basic element of life in God’s material creation, was used to create death, tearing apart and undoing creation on a cosmic scale. Christian civilisations around the world remained silent as this was enacted, justifying the hell that was unleashed. Some point to apparently divinely sanctioned killing and warfare in some parts of the Bible as a reason for comfortably aligning with violence as a solution to conflict. Others retain a fearful image of an angry god, ever ready to punish us and frequently using the powers of this world to judge and destroy those who do wrong.

As we celebrate the Feast of Transfiguration in this moment in time as we watch the unfolding of events in Ukraine, we have the opportunity to be returned to the glimpse of the man Jesus transfigured and lit up with the glory of God, so that we may see not only the truth of who God is, but an alternate vision of who we can become. Despite all of our attempts to create a god in our own image, we are given Jesus, the holy one, who instead of coming with violent judgment, surrenders to our violence. The flame of love burning in this earthly life awakens anew the light within us, transforming us into people who do not conform to the violence of the world but trust in the power of forgiveness and love. The only response to all that seeks to deface humanity and destroy creation is to turn to the light that emanates from Jesus, the human one, whose transfiguration proclaims that we too are born to manifest the glory of God. As we stand on the cusp of the season of Lent, we commit ourselves to reflecting on what it means for our lives that this moment of glory on the mountain was followed by Jesus setting his face towards Jerusalem and to the cross.

Moses and Elijah who appear on the mountain are surely the right people to accompany Jesus in this moment as they, too, were rejected prophets and figures of suffering. Only in Luke’s Gospel do we get to overhear some of the conversation and know that these prophets were speaking with Jesus “about his departure.” The word departure here is literally “exodus” in the Greek (exodos), pointing us to the truth that in walking the way of the cross to the empty tomb, Jesus was bringing about the deliverance of God’s people. We do not need to hear the obvious resonance with Moses’ shining face coming down from Mount Sinai to know that this is an exodus narrative pointing to the liberation, a liberation this time extended to all of creation.

This liberation is not based on the kind of tribal belief that redeems some and casts out others. If this is liberation from the bondage of sin and death, to use old but nevertheless vital language, then it must be liberation for us all or else it is liberation for no one. Our healing lies in overcoming all separation.

Our tribalisms will destroy us, whether they be divisions in our family, our church community, our nation or across the globe. Ultimately whatever confidence we have in the power of our tribe or ideology to save us is misplaced. The rising tensions and reality of war across the globe attest to the need for a new vision revealed by the God fully present in the surrendered life of Jesus, the forgiving victim. The unquenchable power of radical acceptance, forgiveness and unconditional love is revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ; the final response to all our fear and violence.

And what does Jesus say to us about what our liberated lives should look like? I believe we heard it most clearly in the text last week…

Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you.
Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.
Love your enemies! Do good to them. Your reward will be very great.
You will be acting like children of the Most High. For God is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

-Luke 6:27–28; 35–36

This is not rhetoric. God has come into the world, graced human flesh and no place was too shameful, even to being betrayed by his friends and tortured by his enemies. For the kind of God who would surrender to being nailed naked upon the cross, no person is too shameful, no person is to be cast out, no one should ever be cancelled or excluded. No life is an expendable life. God’s love holds all in belonging. This glimpse of glory we see on the mountaintop is to remind us that the fullness of God…the God of creation and of the Exodus liberation…. is the same God hung upon the cross and the same God defeating death on that new day.

This is how things really are. This is the power that is eternal and cannot be defeated. Not the terror of tanks rolling in, or power in bombs descending with death from the sky, but a vision of a God who has defeated death and calls us to give up all of our violent tribalisms and trust to the power of forgiveness and love.

There will be trouble in this world. Jesus tells us that. But Jesus also tells us to take heart because the power of God is at work, defiantly stretching out arms to embrace the whole world in mercy and peace. May we sense our own courage quicken deep within, as the brilliant vision of Christ awakens an answering gleam in our soul for a life given over to love and freedom from the violence that divides us. This Lent may we open our hearts anew to the light of Christ that, by the Spirit, we may be transformed by God’s all-encompassing forgiveness and love and be a flame of hope in times of darkness and despair. +Amen

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