The Feast of the Transfiguration
Dr Susan Blackall 3 March 2019
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
I’m sure you’ve all heard and probably used the word ‘transformer’. Some of you may think first of those little devices that let you plug in and use your electrical devices in other countries, by transforming the voltage or the plug pins.
But if you’ve spent significant time around small boys over the last decade or two, a ‘transformer’ will be something else altogether. A plastic toy that you can manipulate like a rubik’s cube to change it from one shape to another. Usually something ordinary like a car or a postbox, into a rather fierce looking robot with a sinister name like Hammer Beast or Destroyer Knight.
Transformation is a process of change from one thing into another : a change that can be for the better, or for the worse, or just plain ambivalent.
I was reminded of this in my recent visit to my family in the Middle Eastern country of Qatar, in its capital and main commercial centre, Doha. A city of bizarre looking skyscrapers, brand new stadiums and hospitals and shopping centres and hotels. And construction everywhere as Doha continues to transform itself from a tiny fishing village into an ultra modern city of luxury. Mushrooming out of the desert. Built on oil money. Bringing material prosperity and international prestige to its own people.
But at the expense of migrant workers from poorer countries. Poorly paid to work in challenging desert conditions. Who sometimes die in the heat. And at the expense of sometimes shoddy building practices, which can lead to fatal accidents.
Transformation means change from one thing into the other, for better or for worse. Or something of both.
Transfiguration is something different. Here there is no inherent change, but rather, a revelation or manifestation of a person’s full and true nature as a child God.
This is what happens in our Gospel narrative. Jesus isn’t transformed into someone or something else.
Rather, he’s transfigured before his disciples in a way which reveals his true nature as fully human and fully divine : the Son of Man and the Son of God. Transfigured before them through his appearance, through the witness of others and through God’s own voice.
It’s momentary. But for Peter, James and John, Jesus would never again be just a man. And it made a difference to them and who they would become.
Not perhaps on the surface – they looked just the same – but fundamentally within, in mind and heart and faith. Convinced in and committed to their Lord in a whole new way. Becoming the people whom the Lord will trust to send out, after his Ascension, to bring the Gospel message to all the world. And later on, when they began to fulfil his great commission to transform the lives of others in Jesus’ name – when they did this, there are moments when they too were transfigured in the eyes of those to whom they are sent. And those others were changed by this gift of grace into believers themselves, who would in turn go on to share Jesus’ commission with the original apostles. To bring the good news to all people.
And so the faith is grown and is shared : from that catalyst moment of our Lord’s transfiguration, to moments of transfiguration in lives of Christians down the ages, even unto our own time.
And those moments are real –moments of God’s kingdom breaking through. Changing individual lives for the better and renewing whole communities.
I’ve witnessed many of those moments during my ministry and I hope you’ve seen them too.
But sometimes there’s a unique moment of transfiguration which is totally unmissable. Which everyone present can’t help but witness and be affected by. And which transforms them as a community.
This once happened very unexpectedly at a very sad and challenging occasion. The funeral of Baby Hudson. A tiny boy, who – in spite of a remarkable will to live – had blessed his family’s life for just two weeks. And so we were gathered together at the Old Royal Naval College Chapel – a community of grieving parents, family and friends – to give him too soon back to God. And to comfort and care for one another. Some, I think, were surprised that Hudson’s parents chose to bring his three year old sister with them. Not everyone thinks it’s a good thing for children to experience a funeral. But this proved to be a transfiguring exception.
Little Llew was a somewhat restless during the service. She was a lively and energetic little girl. And the Chapel, with its wide aisle and big spaces, invites children to run. But it seemed that she somehow had a sense of the occasion and of her parents’ distress. And she didn’t squirm too much. Or was deftly restrained and quietly entertained in turn by the adults around her.
Until almost the end. Until the final prayers. Which I had begun to lead from the lectern.
Maybe she knew that this was a moment when the adults had let down their guard. Because suddenly, without anyone able to stop her, she was out of the pew and running.
Running towards the tiny white casket set on its rocking horse stand between the choir stalls.
There was a gasp from all the adults. I, too, paused in the prayers. But Llew wasn’t out just for fun. Or to create havoc. Or a comic distraction.
She was a sister with a purpose. A purpose to make her own loving farewell to the brother she’d only known through the glass walls of an incubator.
And here he was for her. Still protected, but now in a beautiful white box, crowned with colourful flowers.
She didn’t take them. Her focus was on him and what she wanted to do for him. She ran up to him. Knelt down next to him. And put her arms around the casket. To say farewell. Without fear, but with a happy smile. And then she ran back to her mother.
A small child, transfigured before us for what she was. A true child of God. In innocent faith. Entrusting her brother to into the everlasting arms of the Lord through that embrace of her own. And letting go in trust. Llew was transfigured in that moment before us. And we were transformed. Drawing on her perfect hope to inspire our own. And reaching out to share it as she had, by embrace. As many did. With tears.
And we will never forget it. And there was no better prayer to follow the prayer Llew had made before us.
For all us here today, I hope there will have been other unforgettable times when we’ve witnessed other people transfigured for a moment as fully and truly children of God. Full-hearted and self-giving in their acceptance of God’s will and his call. Wherever that may mean for them. However challenging it may prove. Just as our Lord accepted his Father’s call to serve and to save us.
Certainly, such moments of transfiguration have continued to transform me. To keep my faith alive and lively. To be thankful for the gifts of the Holy Spirit poured out upon men and women and children – and through them to us – to inspire us all to say yes to the Lord.
And to go on saying yes. Unconditionally. Just as they have.
And I pray that all of us will be continually transformed by all these moments of transfiguration we are blessed to witness in the lives of fellow Christians.
And when we are – like those first disciples on Mount Tabor – may we be moved by the Holy Spirit ourselves, renewed in faith and transfigured ourselves in the active sharing and living of the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of glory. Bringing his healing and his joy to all the different communities in which we serve.
For this is the Lord’s doing and it is marvellous in our sight. May his kingdom come. And may his will be done on earth in our lives. Amen.