In the journey through Lent each year, the Church leads us first out into the wilderness to be with Jesus during his temptations, and then on the second Sunday of Lent his three closest disciples join Jesus as they journey up a high mountain. The strange event which the bible calls Jesus being transfigured is told today in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 17.
Sometimes we think that it is on this particular mountain that the divinity of Jesus is revealed when he shines brightly. In fact, the writers of the New Testament knew that humanity itself was a rather glorious thing, and that the perfect humanity that was Jesus was the model for the glory that all his people would one day share.
Early Christians would tell us that if you wanted to see the divinity of Jesus, you must look at the suffering and shameful death of Jesus – even if this continues to surprise us. So, to understand what happens here on the mountain of the transfiguration, you need to meditate on the other mountain – the place of the crucifixion.
On this mountain, Jesus is revealed in glory; there, on that hill outside Jerusalem, Jesus is revealed in his shame. Here, the clothing that Jesus is wearing is shining white and bright; there his clothes have been stripped away. Here Jesus is flanked by the two great heroes of Israel – Moses and Elijah; there he only has two brigands to flank him. Here a bright cloud covers them with its shadow; there the land is covered in darkness. Here Peter declares how wonderful this all is; there, Peter and the others have run away and hide in their fear. Here the booming voice of God declares that this is His beloved son; there, it is left to a pagan Roman soldier to declare in his surprise that that really was God’s son.
Perhaps it is only when we begin to really see that the glory of God can be revealed in sorrow and shame that we begin to understand how strange and wonderful is this story of Jesus. This Lent we are invited to move deeper into this story, as we listen to the voice of Jesus calling us into life.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 6pm Vigil (10’57”)