A glimpse of the glory of the risen Jesus
Sunday will be the last Sunday of Epiphany, Transfiguration Sunday. The gospel of the day – Mark 9:2-9 – tells us how Jesus went up a high mountain with three of his disciples.
Mark tells the story with a clear simplicity. Jesus went to a mountain to pray, accompanied by his friends, the disciples Peter, James, and John. And there they saw him transfigured, dazzling white, shining with the glory of God, and talking with the great prophets Moses and Elijah.
The scene is reminiscent of Moses’ transfiguration in Exodus 34, when he came down from Mt. Sinai with the tablets of the covenant. Moses’ face was shining brightly from his encounter with God. The people were so afraid of his shining face that he had to cover it with a veil. In each story, the mountain is a thin place, a bridge between heaven and earth.
Like the story of Jesus’ baptism, the Transfiguration is an epiphany story. In both, there is a voice, and the voice says the same words, “This is my Son, the Beloved.” The cloud is the presence of God. Moses represents the law and Elijah the prophets. Thus Jesus is seen as bringing the law and the prophets to fulfilment.
It is no longer possible to say exactly what happened on the mountain. But its first and chief significance was for Jesus himself. It was meant to confirm him in the course he had taken.
But it also benefitted the disciples, and it is this that Mark emphasises. In the Transfiguration they were given a glimpse of the glory of the risen Jesus. In retrospect it confirmed them in the belief that Jesus was the Messiah and Son of God.
“The Transfiguration marks a moment of transition in the Gospels. Before it, Jesus was teaching and preaching to the crowds, healing the sick and demonstrating, to those who had eyes of faith to see, that the kingdom of God was truly among them.
After the Transfiguration Jesus spent more time with his disciples, teaching and encouraging them for what lay ahead after his fateful final visit to Jerusalem. There are fewer miracles from this point on, and much more about the meaning of the events that will unfold in the city that lay ahead of them.
In one sense, the glory days were over. Now they would discover what it really meant to follow the Lord Jesus wherever he led them.” – Seasons of the Son, David Winter.
Many artists have been inspired by the vividness of the Transfiguration story, and it is the theme of numerous works of art. Light and brightness are often used as metaphors for the reality of the life hereafter. The liturgical colour for Transfiguration Sunday is white.