My all-time favorite opening sentence from a work of fiction (even better than “Call me Ishmael.”) has to be the first line from Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. It goes like this: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”
Kafka proceeds, in a perfectly deadpan, Buster Keatonesque fashion to describe the sad fate of this transformation on the life of Gregor Samsa.
This morning, however, we read, in a work of non-fiction, the Bible, about a transformation even more astounding – and that is the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ. Even when you know the true nature of Jesus Christ as both God and man, you can’t help but be amazed and startled when He reveals His true nature for even a short time.
The fact is, that although we don’t see the Transfiguration of the physical body of Jesus Christ, we do have an opportunity to see the glory of our Lord every day.
In Luke 9, we see Jesus Christ transfigured in His earthly life. He was born in humble circumstances and looked like a normal baby. But all of the angelic activity and song singing by humans suggests the truly glorious state of His birth – even if few could see them. When He was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove, and a voice came down from heaven. But only a few saw, and He didn’t look any different.
But here, on Mount of Transfiguration, His disciples saw Him in all His glory. But only 3 of the 12 of the 70 of the multitudes actually saw Him transfigured. Even these 3 saw Him transfigured for only a short time.
But they did see Him transfigured. His clothes were white and radiant, His face was changed, and He looked as He is portrayed in Rev. 1:13-15. He was revealed to be a glorious, burning fire of holiness that exceeded any vision of any other thing on earth. You can bet that from that point on those 3 disciples never forgot what they had seen, even if they didn’t always understand it.
But I can’t help but feel left out of such a great event. What does the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ mean for us today, and how can we see it for ourselves? The key verse in the whole story is verse 32: “They saw His glory.” Where can we see His glory today? I can think of at least a few ways.
First, I think we can begin to see Christ transfigured on the earth today through His Creation. Just as Jesus’ birth looked like a normal birth, our world looks like a normal world. It doesn’t seem like anything special. Oh, but you’re wrong! It’s full of God’s glory, but a glory hidden in the ordinary. Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.”
I see the glory of God in the beetle the kids gave me for Father’s Day. And I see the glory of God in the giant, beautiful crystals my son Charlie and I found at Coleman’s Mine. It’s there in the rainbow that God makes out of nothing more than light and water and air; and it’s there in a single drop of dew on a single blade of grass. I am reminded of His glory by the glory of the sun, which I only see indirectly, even though I sense it there. The glory of the Lord, veiled in His Creation, is all over, once you begin looking for it.
But there is still a more excellent way to see the Glory of God – and that is in the people of God, the Church. Some of our individual lives are transfigured quickly. These are the easiest ones to see. Most of us are transfigured slowly. But if we were able to speed up our lives, over time, they might be like watching the explosion of a supernova! Just as our lives are to be an exorcism of self in slow motion, our proceeding from glory to glory is to be a transfiguration in slow motion. In fact, they must go together: mortification and sanctification, taking off the Old Man and putting on the New; dying to self and being raised with Christ.
At my former beloved parish of St. Chrysostom (now Christ Anglican), I saw the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ in the red stained glass window. St. Chrys used to be a whetstone factory but was transfigured into a church in 1984. The glorious stained glass window (humble and plain by most churches’ standards) has been transfigured from an exhaust fan to a glorious window that reminds us of the light of the glory of God. Depending on the time of year and day, the light from this window streams across my face and reminds me of how God has commanded light to shine out of darkness and has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6).
And whenever I administer and take the Holy Communion, I see the ordinary bread and wine of the earth transfigured into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
But I see the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ most clearly in the people of the church, whether Christ Anglican, Hot Springs or Good Shepherd Reformed Episcopal Church in Tyler, TX. I see ordinary people who have been brought into the glorious presence of God and come back to the world with shining faces. I see ordinary human bodies transfigured into the Body of Jesus Christ, His real presence here on earth. I see lives being delivered from the demon of Self and learning to serve their Lord.
Do you want to see the glory of God? It is all around you – in Creation, Bible, Christians, and the Church. But don’t gaze at the transfigured glory of Jesus Christ as an idle spectator. God expects you to be transfigured by what you have seen. He expects your life to be transformed as were the lives of Jesus’ disciples.
You won’t write a book of the Bible like Peter did. But every day you have the opportunity to be a personal Transfiguration of Jesus Christ to all whom you meet. Out of all the ways in which people may see Jesus Christ in His glory, you are one of the most glorious ones they will ever see.
Prayer: O God, who on the mount didst reveal to chosen witnesses thine only-begotten Son wonderfully transfigured in raiment white and glistering; Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may be permitted to behold the King in his beauty, who with thee, O Father, O Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen.
Resolution and Point for Meditation: I resolve to look for the transfigured Jesus Christ in one place in my life today. However I see Him, I resolve to meditate on His glory and to allow Him to transfigure me in the way that He desires today.
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson