Summary: On the Mount of transfiguration Peter wanted to freeze the moment by building three dwellings or monuments. We are called to transformation and must therefore resist the three monuments to fundamentalism.
Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. (Mark 9:2 NRSV)
As Jesus was transfigured so he calls us to ongoing transformation from who we are now into the fullness of life God offers. We will never be transfigured in quite the same way, so I use transformation for those changes we are called to make. In the transfiguration of Jesus the divinity of his nature shines through his humanity. The transfiguration stands also to remind us that we are made in the image of God. Lent can be a time for us to focus on letting more of our Godliness shine through. Not by denying our humanity, but by accepting our humanity fully. The Church fathers struggled to speak of the relationship of Jesus’ humanity and divinity and they could come up with nothing better than Jesus as fully human, fully divine. In living fully, as Jesus exemplified for us, we will also be living divinely. In living fully we also live divinely.
There is a disturbing story of another type of transfiguration from the life of Leonardo Da Vinci. Leonardo searched the town for a models to sit for his famous fresco of The Last Supper. When he looked for someone to sit as the character of Judas Iscariot he found just the right person - a man whose worn features mapped a life of despair and disillusionment. As Leonardo went to work a strange feeling came over him. "I get the feeling we have met before," said the artist. "Yes," replied the man. "I have sat here before. I was you model for Jesus. Since then I have fallen on bad times and have lost family, friends - everything".
A positive, transformative approach to life challenges the stark distinction between humanity and divinity - between God and us, between the sacred and the ordinary. This challenge is at the heart of Jesus teaching. I’m not saying that we are to become little Gods and masters of our own destiny. We know from experience where such blatant selfishness leads. Living fully the life given to us means living close to God with an awareness of our creation in God’s likeness and image. The Season of Lent is a time to explore this closeness more deeply.
In living fully we also live divinely. These words may sound strange at first. They appear to cross a boundary set in the very reality of existence. Many of the great religions of the world tell us the realms of humanity and divinity are separate. That is why Jesus had to come - to lead us from one to the other. You get into the heavenly realm through faith in Christ which is the only way to be released from the judgement that hangs over each of us. This is a very narrow way to look at our faith. I’m not denying that scriptural support can be found for such a position. I’m saying that such a stark interpretation of the words of Scripture is not the final word on the nature of our God.
It can be impressive to meet someone who knows the Scriptures and can speak convincingly and simply of their meaning. We must look deeper, both into the Scripture and into ourselves if we are to be transformed with Christ. On the mount of transfiguration Jesus is joined by two towering figures of the Scripture, Moses who represents the Law and Elijah who represents the prophets. The Law shrouds the ten Commandments that Moses brought down from Mt Sinai. Elijah the great prophet who confounded the priests of other gods and confronted his king without fear. Even these towering personalities are out shone by the person of Jesus. The voice from the cloud says this is my beloved son listen to him.
The disciples on the mountain that day were dumbfounded. Peter is often caricatured as wanting to freeze this great moment by building dwellings or monuments. But rather than expending energy freezing the moment Peter, James and John would be transformed themselves, from fishermen to preachers whose witness to Christ would have a transformative effect on the whole world. Be transformed this Lent!
There are many barriers to our transformation. The greatest dangers are not the external ones, the threat of war or the failure of the structures of society, although these play a part, but an insidious internal one: fundamentalism. I had better say what I mean when I use this word because people call one another a "fundamentalists" when they do not see things in the same way.