Reflection for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity – the Transfiguration. 

‘While he was praying, the appearance of his face changed.’ Jesus, in Luke 9:28-36.

‘It is not only prayer that gives God glory but work.’ Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Luke’s account of the Transfiguration begins with Jesus taking Peter, James and John up the mountain with him – this is not for all the disciples to experience. While they are together, Jesus is transfigured before them – his face changes and his clothes become dazzling white, with Moses and Elijah also joining him and appearing in glory. Luke tells us that the disciples are sleepy but, because they stayed  awake, are able to see what happens. Perhaps that’s part of our story too – despite the ‘woke’ culture in which we live, there may be times when sleep seems more tempting than being alert. 

Moses and Elijah traditionally represent the Law, the Prophets and the importance of the Old Testament in understanding the New – and, despite never having met them, the three disciples seem to know who they are. However, Luke states that Moses and Elijah are discussing with Jesus his departure, or forthcoming death, in Jerusalem. They are encouraging him to face what lies ahead, whereas the disciples still do not understand what is to happen. Bishop Hall wrote of the ‘strange opportunity’ this presents:

In his highest Exaltation to speak of his Sufferings; to talk of Calvary in Tabor; when his Head shone with glory, to tell him how it must bleed with thorns; when his Face shone like the Sun, to tell him it must be blubbered and spat upon; when his Garments glistered with that celestial brightness, to tell him they must be stripped and divided; when he was adored by the Saints of Heaven, to tell him how he must be scorned by the basest of men; when he was between two Saints, to tell him how he must be seen between two Malefactours: in a word, in the midst of his Divine Majesty, to tell him of his shame; and whilst he was Transfigured in the Mount, to tell him how he must be disfigured upon the Cross. Yet these two Heavenly Prophets found this the fittest time for this discourse: rather chusing to speak of his Sufferings in the height of his Glory, than of his Glory after his Sufferings.’ Bishop Joseph Hall, 1574-1656.

In the face of the glory before them as Jesus is transfigured by dazzling light, the disciples hear a voice telling them to listen, as well as look, as they are enveloped in a cloud – understandably, they are terrified. They tell no-one what has happened and keep their silence in the face of such an astonishing event. Like them, perhaps we need to listen as well as see what is happening before us in our world today. There may be many things from global warming to warfare and unrest in so many places that cause us to be frightened and it’s poignant that the feast of the Transfiguration is celebrated on the same date as the terrible light unleashed by the dropping of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima in 1945. Through that devastation, peace was enforced but there are also fears today that nuclear warfare may become an outcome of the war between Russia and Ukraine. Many things disfigure our world, just as the Light of Christ and faith that prayer can make a difference can also transfigure the darkness as the figures on the world stage play out their roles. 

However, the cloud was also part of the transfiguration then just as the mushroom cloud disfigured Hiroshima in 1945. If we can’t see where we’re going or understand what is happening, perhaps we need to listen and look more closely as we figure out where God’s transfiguring glory may be clouded in our world today: ‘A man with a dungfork in his hand, a woman with a sloppail, give God glory too. All things give him glory if you mean they should.’ Gerard Manley Hopkins.

With my prayers; pob bendith,

Christine, Guardian.