A great insight today into the miracle of the Transfiguration. I can’t take credit for this – our morning session leader, Rev. Bruce Rigdon, shared it. Bruce is a Presbyterian pastor who studied both at Yale Divinity School and, years later, at an Orthodox seminary in New York. This insight happened when he was working with a graduate student who could translate Coptic, and arises from a particular 5th century monk in Egypt.
Mark 9 tells a story that should be familiar to most Christians. Protestants are used to hearing a version of it, from one of the three synoptic gospels, read the Sunday before Lent:
2Six 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, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10So they kept the matter to themselves…
For many of us who have grown up in modern, rational, western Christian churches, we might have posed questions – or preached sermons – positing whether this miracle “really happened.” That is to say, was Jesus visually transformed before the disciples?
Bruce shared that when he was in seminary and preparing to preach on this text, he consulted a wide variety of commentaries in the Yale library, and they all seemed to agree on the interpretation of this transfiguration of Jesus. Yet he knew in reading them that the “yankee” congregationalist church he would be sharing it with would struggle with the possibility of the miracle.
He happened to be working with a well-known historian at the seminary, and was assigned to find any texts that might be helpful in writing a history of the Coptic church, specifically between 300 and 600 AD. In that research, he and his graduate student partner found a coptic commentary, and he had the student translate the comments on Mark 9.
Bruce shared that the insight of the monk turned the Scripture upside down for him, and transformed his outlook. For the month, the miracle was not something that happened to Jesus.
The miracle was something that happened to the disciples. For a moment, in the midst of this dark world that has so much difficulty perceiving the light of God, the sleepy eyes of the disciples were opened wide. For the first time, by the work of the Spirit, they saw Jesus for who He was, for who He is, and has always been. The curtain was pulled back, in effect, and they saw the full glory of the Lord that was present with them all the time. Jesus wasn’t changed – the disciples were!
The monk wrote that from that day forward, despite the fact that they didn’t talk about it to anyone, those three disciples would have seen the entire world a little bit differently.
Bruce shares that our Christian life is a journey, a process by which day by day God gives us the light to see things more as they are.
Can you imagine if, for one day, we had our eyes opened and we could really see in all people the image of God? If we could see clearly the glory of God that permeates all of creation around us? Imagine the impact that truly seeing the world, as God sees it – as God is present within is – would have on how we treat one another and our world!
Quakers comment that we can see the face of God in one another. Likewise, in one of this week’s readings I read that human beings are the best icon of God. All around us the glory of the Lord is present – and sometimes, like the disciples on the mount, we just might be blessed enough to catch a glimpse that will change how we view (and respond to!) everything else…