Transfiguring faith

This Sunday, we celebrate the miracle of the Transfiguration of Christ, found in the synoptic gospels at Matthew 17:1–9, Mark 9:2–8, and Luke 9:28–36. In the biblical context, the Transfiguration serves as a bridge between Jesus’ public ministry and his passion. From the time of the Transfiguration, Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem and the cross.

United Methodists and other denominations that follow the Revised Common Lectionary typically schedule the observance of the Transfiguration on the Sunday before Lent, for a very important reason: it allows us to celebrate the revelation of Christ’s glory before the journey to the Passion. As we prepare to commit to a renewed discipline in walking in the way of the cross, a daily adherence to Christ, and the rediscovery of our baptismal renunciation of evil and sin, the experience of the Transfiguration prepares us for our Lenten journey, strengthening us to bear our cross and be changed into his likeness. Easter then reveals the fullness of Christ’s glory as foreshadowed in the Transfiguration, and Christians give themselves anew to the gospel as they share in the dying and rising of Christ.

The scriptures for the day in the Revised Common Lectionary are set in such a way that the Old Testament informs the New; and God’s glory is seen shining through the centuries.

We begin with Exodus 34:29-35, where Moses’ face shone with the reflected glory of God after he received the Ten Commandments, to such an extent that he had to wear a veil to mask the radiance of God.

In the New Testament reading, 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2, Paul contrasts the glory of Moses with the glory of Christ: the Israelites couldn’t see Moses’ face because of the veil, but in Christ we see the unveiled glory of God and are transformed into Christ’s likeness.

This sets up the reading of the gospel, Luke 9:28-36, in which a dazzling foreshadowing of the resurrection takes place. God affirms Jesus’ identity, the disciples are stunned speechless, and Jesus resumes his mission with a demonstration of his power over evil.

This is the message of the Transfiguration: witnesses to the glory of God will be unable to avoid reflecting that glory in the world. It was true for Moses, it was doubtless true for Peter, James, and John. And we pray that it will be true of all of us who see the glory of the Lord in the Word and in the Supper, and who are being “transformed into the same image” by the Spirit of God.

At MUMC, we are currently finishing up a sermon series oriented around the three persons of the Trinity, designed to help us to grow deeper in faith by looking at the completeness of God rather than overly focusing on a single aspect, which can warp our understanding.

This Sunday, the last of the three, is focused on the Holy Spirit as The Sustainer, that which connects us to God as part of his continued presence in the world.

The scripture for this topic comes from Ephesians 3:16-19:

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

 

Although it’s not the prescribed scripture for this Sunday in the lectionary, it is really very appropriate to be discussing the Spirit as our connection to God on the celebration of Transfiguration Sunday. And as we prepare to head into the beginning of Lent next week, this reminder of the Spirit’s continued presence in the world is exactly the purpose of setting Transfiguration Sunday directly before Ash Wednesday.

This upcoming Sunday, we’ll be singing a hymn from the Methodist supplement The Faith We Sing. It’s a text by Carl P. Daw, Jr. set to the hymntune HYFRYDOL, and though the end of the second stanza references specifically the transfiguration of Christ, the hymn also encourages us to turn into a Lenten frame of mind, as we engage in “true worship [which] gives us courage to proclaim what we profess,” and work toward living in such a way that “our daily lives may prove us people of the God we bless.”

 

We have come at Christ’s own bidding to this high and holy place,
where we wait with hope and longing for some token of God’s grace.
Here we pray for new assurance that our faith is not in vain,
searching like those first disciples for a sign both clear and plain.

Light breaks in upon our darkness; splendor bathes the flesh-joined Word;
Moses and Elijah marvel as the heavenly voice is heard.
Eyes and hearts behold with wonder how the Law and Prophets meet:
Christ, with garments drenched in brightness, stands transfigured and complete.

Strengthened by this glimpse of glory, fearful lest our faith decline,
we like Peter find it tempting to remain and build a shrine.
But true worship gives us courage to proclaim what we profess,
that our daily lives may prove us people of the God we bless.

(TWFS #2103)

As we prepare for the beginning of Lent, remember Paul’s declaration to the Corinthians that “all of us.. are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” It’s the glory of God that is doing the transforming within us, and one of the ways we can connect to and recognize God’s presence and that process of transformation is through the Spirit, as God’s continued presence in the world.

Thomas Merton wrote, “I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate… and if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

As we look toward this more somber season, we bring with us the brightness of the transfiguration. It can light our way in the dark, helping us to see what we need to see– the reality of sin and brokenness and our need for Christ’s redemption– and keeping alive our hope of resurrection dawn.

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