Part of the Sunday Retold series, following the readings may churches around the word use. This week it’s
With relevant extracts from my Books. I hope you enjoy. Please feel free to use any of my material you find helpful, saying where it’s from.
Photo – Matthew Ling
CHANGED BEFORE THEIR EYES (Mark 9:1-30)
Jesus led his disciples on from Caesarea Philippi towards higher ground. Jesus took Peter, James and John, and began to climb the steep slopes of a mountain that rose above the landscape. Rocks slid under their feet as they walked under the bright, burning sun. At last they reached the top, and looked down on the outstretched wings of eagles riding the rising thermal currents.
And there, under the wide, open sky, Jesus was transformed before their eyes. He was shining, changed, his clothes dazzling white – brighter than pure untrodden mountain snow. Then, the disciples saw two figures join Jesus – Moses, the law-giver, and Elijah, the prophet. And there, on that high mountain, they talked together.
Peter, James and John watched wide-eyed until Peter said “Rabbi, Teacher, it’s so good for us to be here. Let us build shelters for you, and Moses, and Elijah.”
Then cloud swirled around them, and a voice came from the cloud. “This is my Son, the one I love. Listen to him!” Then there was silence, and they were alone with Jesus.
On the steep path back down, Jesus turned to them and said, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen until I have risen from the dead!” And the three whispered together, wondering what rising from the dead might mean.
From The Bible Retold
It’s such a strange story.
It forms part of the great turn in the gospel accounts – the turn towards Jerusalem, towards death and resurrection. It follows, and in some ways partners, Jesus’ conversation with his disciples at Caesarea Phillipi, in which he asks them who they say he is. He begins to explain what must happen – how the way is the way through death. Peter, for one, cannot accept it.
And then, this. A strange experience which seems set apart from our everyday reality, and yet shows a deeper reality, almost a peering behind a curtain.
Today, as I write this, I don’t find it very easy to know what to do with that experience – I don’t find myself on a mountaintop. I wonder what it must have been like to be one of the ones left at the bottom, trying to help a desperate father and his desperate son, and unable to do so (Luke 9:37-43). I feel more inclined to ask – if all scripture is useful, how is this useful? If it is supposed to lead to goodness, then how does this do so (2 Timothy 3:16-17)? These are often the starting of my enquiry into a passage.
And I find that recognising there is more than meets the eye in life, there is both dazzling brightness and deep, mysterious cloud, that we sometimes have hints, intimations, of reality and depth and connectedness does indeed help. Although there is much that could be said about the greatness of this mountaintop experience, today, now, I am thinking more simply.
I am praying for my eyes to be transfigured, so that I can see the depth and mystery, the brightness and cloudiness that is around me every day. I pray for eyes to see each person I encounter is a holy mystery, beloved by God, made in the image of God, and therefore I seek to look for what they can teach me of God. I would pray to be able to see as God sees, but I do not think I could bear the weight of that. But I can pray for a little more understanding, a little more insight, a little more patience to wait in the cloud, not understanding, and to listen to Jesus, even when no words are said. And I do find that seeing differently leads to acting differently. I hope so. I hope that if I know more fully that the world is charged with God’s grandeur as Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, I will walk differently through it, with more care and more delight. I hope that if I know more fully that each person is precious, I will treat them as precious.
Grant me to recognise in others, Lord God,
the radiance of your own face.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 1881-1955
From Prayers and Verses
Sculpture, Elizabeth Frink – Chapel of the Transfiguration, St Edmundsbury Cathedral
On Sunday, we went to the Cathedral at Bury St Edmunds for evensong, beautiful as ever. We walked past the Chapel of the Transfiguration, my favourite part of the Cathedral. The table is formed of two pieces of stone. The base is new, polished, very pale and smooth, and the top has been cleaned, but it is plainly old, broken, worn, rescued and repurposed. Made new. Transfigured, even. Above is this beautiful Frink sculpture, which always catches my breath. The figure of Jesus seems to float off the wall, it seems to hold within it the movement of resurrection, of ascension, those times which are to come showing that this death is not the end, that now, there will be a rising. There will be life. Death is transfigured in this sculpture – and included.
You might like to take time to look at it.
How do you respond to it?
Does knowing that it is set in the Chapel of the Transfiguration affect how you see it?
You might like to think about the Transfiguration, and its part in the road to the cross, by dwelling on this – written by Paul in his letter to the Colossians.
19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
All things reconciled.
The brightness and the cloud. The voice and the silence. The death and the life.
Perhaps, like Peter, James and John, we can wonder what this rising from the dead might mean.
Perhaps we can see things more clearly, with transfigured eyes.
2020 – Update:
I found this Liturgy for the Transfiguration online – from the Iona Community. It’s thoughtful and gentle. It includes a short and beautiful film, with art and music. You might find it helps.
“This new light”, Liturgy for the Transfiguration, Iona Community.
You might like to meditate on how this story may be linked to the stories of Moses and Elijah.
I’ve been exploring the story of Moses and the burning bush, and you can read a poem about that here- On fire, but not burned.