Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus[f] took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
The story of the Transfiguration, in which Jesus in his prayer is transfigured, comes with challenges and debates. The disciples see two people by his side, Moses and Elijah and listen to the conversation going on between the three of them.
Peter immediately wants to take action, and erect three dwellings, in honour of the three people. Then a cloud comes and overshadows them and the result is that they are terrified. They hear the voice of God. This encounter silences the disciples and they do not speak of what they have seen and heard. It’s a reminder that encountering God isn’t just an easy or simple matter of God fitting into our experience. Encountering God is about being taken out of ourselves into the presence of the mystery and power at the heart of the universe. Such an encounter can be very challenging.
It’s about the possibility of seeing God with new eyes in new ways. Seeing God isn’t always simple or straightforward, it can take some wrestling with; it can happen in unexpected ways. It’s about trusting God and that God does speak. Sometimes this means we need to wait and to listen, and be open to be filled with awe and wonder.
It’s about acting on what we hear and what we see. This means having faces that shine with God’s glory, so that we are witnesses to God’s power and God’s love. The transfiguration also speaks about the role of fixed places, as places that hold the memory. It’s good to have church buildings, as a visible sign of God’s presence in the community, and to remember all that has happened in the building. But after the transfiguration Jesus and the disciples went from the mountain to the valley.
God calls us to journey on, to be where the people are, to reach out in sharing in God’s work of loving and forgiving and healing.
Transfiguring God, open my eyes to see Jesus as he is. Free me from all that constrains me from being open to where you are present. Help me to wait and listen and trust, especially in uncertain times. May my face shine with your glory and my life witness to your love. Open me to journey where you lead. Amen
The Revd Dr Elizabeth Welch, retired minister, active theologically and ecumenically, member at St Andrews Ealing.