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The readings and prayers can be found here:
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‘A cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘this is my Son, my beloved’.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When I was younger I quite enjoyed watching discovery programmes on the television. I don’t mean on the discovery channel, with titles such as ‘discover the mystery of the Titanic’ or ‘discover the truth about 9/11’, rather, I enjoyed watching discoveries about people. Such a subject has had a long-standing series, it is of course, the BBC’s ‘Who do you think you are?’
‘Who do you think you are?’ will be familiar to you I’m sure. It charts the family history of the person in question, usually a celebrity. It shows people like Ricky Tomlinson, Ian McKellen, Patsy Kensit, Lulu, Fearne Cotton and Derek Jacobi all discover their heritage afresh, often with surprise after surprise.
Today, in the gospel, we hear again the words of the Father: ‘this is my Son, the beloved’. The same words uttered at his baptism, at the beginning of his public ministry, are uttered again, but this time, there’s a twist. They’re uttered in the time immediately before the great story of salvation begins to unfold. The Transfiguration points us forward to the moment of Christ’s passion, death and his resurrection; and of course it’s no accident that this occurs immediately before Lent, that period of preparation, that time when we ‘discover’ the mystery afresh.
Who did Peter, James and John think that this Jesus was? After some years with him, where they any clearer as to his identity? Where they any clearer as to his history? Where they ready for what was ahead of them?
In some ways, they inevitably understood that this man, that this Jesus, was far from the average street preacher, they recognised him as a prophet certainly, but as we heard in the gospel the chosen three are ‘terrified’; the disciples are not able to comprehend what was before their eyes, literally, before their eyes, that is – the brilliant white light of the transfiguration and the glowing garments of Jesus.
In the television series, you see scenes of emotion, with joy sadness, surprise and shock in equal measure, when discoveries are made, when old documents are unearthed from the archives, when the missing piece of the puzzle is found, which goes on to reveal the facts people have been searching for.
Who was this man, what will he do, what impact will he have?
These are the questions that had evaded the disciples. These are the things that they had not understood, these are things that had shocked them to the core. His identity, mission and impact, the things that had been ‘veiled’ as we heard in the reading from second Corinthians, are now brought to light. The things that had been hidden are now on display for them to see with their own eyes.
With this event, the missing pieces of the puzzle are revealed and comprehended in three moments: first, in the glory that emanates from him, second, in the appearance of Moses and Elijah, and thirdly, in the words of the Father.
In the Transfiguration the disciples see the glory of God; he is revealed as the ‘God who comes’, the God who comes and does not ‘keep silence’ as we heard in the Psalm. This God is revealed in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. Peter, James and John would’ve known the words of today’s Psalm, that God ‘reveals himself in glory’ that ‘before him there is a consuming flame’. In their experience on the mountaintop, they see glory abound, light as bright as fire bathes their vision. What does it tell them? Mark uses the same word for the glory (ophthe) of God revealed to Moses in the burning bush – in other words – in Jesus dwells the God of the Exodus – the God who saves his people with his mighty arm. The actual presence of the almighty dwells in this man: he is God.
Then there are the figures of Moses and Elijah. In ‘Who do you think you are?’ so often the facts about incidents and identities are confirmed by archivists or historical experts. At the Transfiguration, Jesus is glorified by the two dominant figures of the past. The appearance of Moses and Elijah further reveal his identity – he is not divorced from history, but is its fulfilment.
He is the fulfilment of both the law and the prophets – he is the one promised of old, who would gather the people of Israel. And finally, as if more were needed, we hear the voice of the Father. The facts are established – who is this man? This is his beloved Son, the Saviour, the living temple of God’s glory, the one who will fulfil the prophecies and the one who establishes a new law – the law of his love.
These three moments of glory, revelation and speech show the disciples that a new time is here. He, and he alone, will begin a new ‘covenant with sacrifice’: this is his mission; this is what he will do; the Transfiguration is a glimpse of what will be achieved when the new covenant is established. As God had made a covenant in ages past, as God had gathered a people to himself, now, in this moment, in Jesus, God begins his mission of salvation, gathering the people to himself.
Who do you think you are? Who are you in light of the Transfiguration? Christ comes, at the command of the Father, to make us the beloved of God as he is beloved. To change us into his likeness from glory to glory, to bathe us in the same light of heaven and restore us to the Father.
How will we answer the question: who do you think HE is?
Let us say: He is God’s Son, the beloved, the one who comes to make covenant with us, sealed in sacrifice, he is the one who will never leave us. ‘Give us grace Lord, to perceive his glory’.
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