Pastor Joe Britton
St. Michael’s Church
Last Epiphany: Transfiguration
And he was transfigured before them,
and his clothes became dazzling white. (Mark 9)
Think back, if you will, to Christmas for a moment. Do you ever pay close attention to the interior verses of the carols that otherwise are so familiar and just float right by us? From Hark! the herald angels sing, verse 2: “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail the incarnate deity.” Or from O come, all ye faithful, again verse 2: “God from God, Light from Light eternal, … only begotten Son of the Father.” Or, as it was all summarized in our opening hymn, Jesus is “God in man made manifest.”
If you’re like me, you’re always a bit astounded at the claim those words make: the same God who created heaven and earth, is now born in human flesh. And if we’re truly honest with ourselves, I think we all come away from Christmas a bit mystified and maybe even nonplussed by that idea.
Coming back to today’s gospel, the transfiguration of Jesus on the mount, I think we are given some clues about how we might glimpse the meaning of what those carols say a bit better. We’ve talked before about how the transfiguration is not some exterior phenomenon that is laid upon Jesus, but that it’s really more of a turning-inside-out, a revealing of what was hidden beneath the surface all along. As his appearance turns from the ordinary human form, to a state of brilliant light, and then back again, we see both the human and divine natures that are within him.
But here is the deeper thing to grasp: the point of Jesus’ transfiguration is not that he is so different from us, but rather that we are so like him, except that the fusion of the divine and human in him is utterly uninhibited. In the transfigured Jesus, we are meant to be reminded of the image and likeness of God in which we are created—a beauty and brilliance that has become masked under the tarnish of our faults and frailty, but which is still there to be revealed, if only we could turn ourselves inside out.
I am very grateful to be part of a colleague group where we share some very profound spiritual reflection with one another. Recently, the discussion was led by Roland McGregor, a retired Methodist minister. In a poem entitled, “How Is It with My Soul?”, Roland wrote:
How is it with my soul, my God touching?
If I could just dig deep enough,
If I could toss dross left and right,
Would I come to my beginning and my end?
Would I come to the Alpha and the Omega?
Commenting on the poem, he observed that, “I notice that coming up in me is something that is not of me. God and I are a mix, I am not just a lone individual. Where my interior is hollow, it is filled by God. The emptiness of me is filled with the fullness of God.”
Let me see if I can help open those words up a bit. Sit back, focus your attention, and take a moment to call to mind the consciousness you have at this very moment, of where you are located, what it is that you are doing, of what you are hearing.
Now let your consciousness step behind the present moment, to become aware of all that you bring to it. The events of this past week. Your life circumstance: work, family, home, health.
And now take a further step back, and let your consciousness become aware of what led you to those circumstances. Your childhood, parents, school, friends, teachers.
And now take still a further step back, and let yourself be aware of your earliest memories as a child. What first made you aware of yourself?
And now, take yet another step back, and imagine yourself as an infant even before you became fully aware of yourself as a person.
And now, going back still further, imagine yourself in your mother’s womb, a bundle of interconnected cells and tissue, not yet fully formed into a human being.
Do you begin to feel yourself moving closer and closer toward the point at which the divine gift of life brought you into being, the very beginning of being you, the alpha point of your existence?
And suppose we were to go the other way, and rather than moving backward in our memory, to imagine what is our destiny? Can you imagine yourself in your final moments, conscious in some way of breath leaving your body, as you hand your life back to the divine sources from which it came? There is the omega point of your physical existence.
Roland’s poem, I think, wants to make us aware of that underlying continuity of divine presence that lies deep within us, or as Paul put it in our reading from Second Corinthians, the presence of the one who said, “Let light shine out of the darkness,” and who has shone that light into our hearts, mixing with our own humanity and sometimes rising to the surface—as it does in a particularly intense way in Jesus’ own transfiguration. So as I said, it is not that Jesus is so utterly different from us, but rather that he is more like the human being we are meant to be than we are ourselves. He is, you might say paradoxically, more human than we are. That is what I think Roland’s poem tries to describe, welling up from deep within.
In the coming season of Lent, we are (as I mentioned last week) proposing as a theme “In the looking glass: knowing ourselves to understand others.” As we enter into the various opportunities we will have to explore that theme together, one thought that I hope you will keep in mind is that among the lessons we have to learn about ourselves, is to be aware of the divine presence that is within us. For if we see that clearly enough by turning a looking glass on ourselves, then we also become better able to see it in others. The transfiguration, you might say, is God holding a mirror up to humanity, and the human being infused with God’s presence is the image we see. And so this might be a season in which you see both yourself, and your fellow human being, as also transfigured by the divine presence.
And with that image before us, one can only wonder what then might be our approach to overcoming the divisions and animosity which currently so beset us. Amen.