St Cuthbert, Philbeach Gardens

9th August 2009

The Transfiguration

If you’ve ever taken part in a stage play, whether as a professional or amateur actor, you will know how important the lighting is to a successful production.

The actors, of course, need to know their lines, and a good stage-set will improve any production; but a badly-lit stage will lose the audience’s attention more quickly than anything else. If we want people to enter into, and become part of, and thereby enjoy the play they are watching, then good lighting is very important.

So let us think of the Transfiguration as a Heaven-sent Stage Presentation whose Author and Producer is God Himself. We are dealing with serious stuff here: on that Holy Mountain of the Transfiguration, God chose to put on a ‘Benefit Performance’ for the three Chosen Apostles, Peter, James and John, the inner core of Jesus’s followers.

The first thing God had to do was to grab the audience’s attention. They were ‘heavy with sleep’ St Luke tells us. It looked as though nothing was happening. His audience saw Jesus kneeling alone in prayer as they had often seen him do, and would see him doing so again on Maundy Thursday night in the Garden of Gethsemane; and on both occasions the audience fell fast asleep.

God the Father’s answer to recapturing the attention of a sleepy audience was that of any good Producer. He ‘turned up the spotlights’ by several notches on the principal character, Jesus: ‘His face shone like the Sun and his clothes became brilliant as a lightning’.

Just think. What is it that most quickly stops an audience chattering among themselves and reduces them to the silence necessary for the play to begin? It’s that moment when the house-lights go down, the stage lights come up and the curtain rises. That’s a far more effective way of gaining people’s attention than shouting at them through the loudspeakers – which they ignore; or making a big bang – which may indeed scare them into silence, but not the sort of silence which makes them attentive and receptive to the play. But ‘lights-down/curtain-up’ says, silently and unmistakably, ‘Be quiet! Something important is just about to happen!’

So the curtain rose on Jesus: the veil between time and eternity was suddenly drawn aside and the three Apostles woke up with a start. Everything looked quite different to them. They had gone to sleep whilst Jesus was ‘in the dark’; they woke up to find Him transfigured into shine with a dazzling brightness – as if a whole battery of spotlights had been turned on Him. ‘His face shone like the sun and His clothes became as white as the light’.

But that was only the beginning. Two other figures, Moses and Elijah appeared on stage talking with Jesus, Next moment a bright cloud covered them with shadow and out of it there came an overpowering voice which said ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; He enjoys My favour, listen to Him!’. So the moment for sound-effects had arrived.

The disciples ‘fell on their faces, overcome with fear’. But Jesus came up and touched them ‘Stand up,’ he said ‘do not be afraid.’ And when they raised their eyes they saw no one but Jesus alone.

That experience remained with them for the rest of their lives. St Peter, writing many years afterwards said ‘we have seen his majesty for ourselves. He was honoured and glorified by God the Father when the Sublime Glory [that’s to say, God himself] spoke to Him and said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; He enjoys My favour.’ St Peter adds, ‘We heard this ourselves spoken from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain’; and St John, who was also present, must have had the same experience I mind when he said in his Gospel ‘We beheld His glory, glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.’

Such experiences are called ‘enlightenment’: We ‘come to see things in a different light’.

Needless to say Enlightenment needs light. Anything we can see with our eyes or in our minds we can only see because light of some kind is shining on it. But don’t go on from there to think that the absence of light makes things stop existing. A chair in a pitch-dark room will still be there even whether we can see it or not. Light doesn’t make things exist, any more than darkness makes them go away. But the way we see them will depend upon the intensity (and colour) of the light shining on them. As St John said in the introduction to his gospel, whilst the darkness can never overcome the light, light, however dim, always overcomes the darkness.

So it is with Jesus. Our vision of Him is bound to depend on whether we are walking ‘in the light’, or ‘in the dark’. We cannot get an accurate picture of Jesus unless we have first allowed ourselves to be enlightened by Him. Enlightenment is always a two-way process: everything reflects light from itself onto other objects – and that is true of ourselves. If we ‘walk in the light of Christ’ our light too will ‘shine before others that they may glorify our heavenly Father’ as Jesus said.

But it’s not just the light in which we see Jesus which may be faulty: it’s the light in which we see other people, which is just as likely to distort our image of them. We view them in the colours we want to see both Jesus and them, whether it’s in a rosy light or a dim and unfavourable one.

But the way God sees things is different from ours. Whilst our view is discoloured by our prejudices, instincts and feelings, and makes you or me see someone as only a dull, tedious, human-being, God sees that person as someone He has created, and for whose sake He sent His Son ‘to die for their sins and to rise again for their justification’. And that’s not the only difference between our view and God’s: because God may also see in that same person someone to whom He can now wants to say ‘John’ [or Joanna] ‘it’s time for you and your fellow-Chrstians to stop complaining about what’s wrong with your Church, and time to start doing something to put it right’.

By God’s grace we can learn to see both Him, and our fellow men ‘in a different light’. In that light we shall discover that we’ve been mistaken about both them and Him. Once we have stopped looking through the coloured spectacles of our own prejudices we shall start seeing things in that selfsame light which shone upon Jesus Himself when He was transfigured on the Holy Mountain.

In other words, we shall have become enlightened.

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