This one Sunday in between the last feast of Christmas and the beginning of Lent, is a visual feast to the eyes. The Transfiguration of Christ is a rather exotic and dramatic event and many artists throughout the centuries have found various ways of depicting the moment when Jesus himself was transfigured, read it here.
Jesus is not transformed in this moment, it is not just his appearance which changes, but his very being – in this divine encounter on the mountaintop Jesus is changed. His humanity is dropped and his deity is enhanced for the disciples to see, truly, who he is. The talk had been of death, of Jesus’ true purpose and as he is transfigured 2 other holy icons appear alongside him – Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets and indicating that Jesus’ death will be the fulfilment of both. Their appearance may also suggest that, contrary to the what had previously been discussed that night, Jesus will not have to face death – rumour and tradition held that Moses somehow escaped death, simply departing in old age; Scripture tells us that Elijah was taken up to heaven in a winged chariot when his time on earth drew to a close.
However, for Jesus, there will be no such ‘escape’ – Jesus’ ‘exodus’ will be through a very painful and humiliating death. There is work to be done through his death and there is no way to ‘escape’ it. Jesus’ own chariot flight to heaven will come, but the Ascension follows on from Resurrection and Resurrection can only take place after death.
Peter, John and James are overwhelmed by what they see, many interpretations of the event show the men bowed down in worship, prayer, humility. Peter, as usual, meaning well, puts his foot in his mouth and offers to build shelters for Moses and Elijah and Jesus – he wants to keep them and this mountain-top experience close to hand. However, the ancients are already leaving, they have fulfilled their purpose and need to remove themselves so that the focus can be on Jesus alone. Their presence has been important in identifying Jesus for who he truly is, but the disciples have been blinded by the glory that surrounds them and they have missed the main point.
It is only when the cloud descends upon them, when they are wrapped up in God’s presence, and are blinkered from all that surrounds them that they begin to understand. Cocooned in God’s presence there are no longer any distractions. Peter had been voicing his not particularly well thought through offer, when the cloud of God’s presence surrounds them, silencing him. Peter, for once is lost for words, and the others remain still as well. It is a terrifying experience for them, entering into God’s presence, but it is only there, without any distractions, that they can truly connect with God.
In the darkness of the cloud, the disciples hear God speak:
This is my Son, my Chosen; Listen to him!
Lent is almost upon us, a time when we strip away those things which blind us to God’s presence. It can be terrifying to imagine life without the background noise of the radio, without the constant images and company that a television can bring. The challenge of cutting ourselves off from socialising through the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, may seem a lonely thing to do. In some churches, even the holy adornments are clothed in hessian or sack cloth for the period, and there are to be no flowers and no sung gloria. Entering into such visual poverty may seem alien and strange, but we are doing so in order to create space for something so much more.
In our ‘Lenten poverty’ we are making space to embrace a fullness of God’s presence. We allow God to overshadow us, not just the few moments we try to set aside each day, but the whole of our days. In our silence we listen more intently and allow God to speak. In our ‘poverty’ we become enriched by God’s presence.
Something to listen to (perhaps with eyes closed):
Something to think about:
- What is the most beautiful thing you have experienced in worship?
- What are the things that distract you from worship – whether in s church setting or at home alone?
- How does silence fit into your experiences of God?
- How can you make time and space for God this Lent – what things do you need to cut out of your lifestyle in order to be able to hear Jesus speak to you?
Something to pray:
In silence, to be there before you Lord, that’s all. To shut the eyes of my body, to shut the eyes of my soul, and to be still and silent, to expose myself to you who are there, exposed to me.
To be there before you, the Eternal Presence. I am willing to feel nothing, Lord, to see nothing, to hear nothing.
Empty of all ideas, of all images, in the darkness. Here I am, simply to meet you without obstacles, in the silence of faith, before you, Lord. Michael Quoist