It has never stuck me so forcefully before that the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration is a story about his approaching death.
It isn’t that I hadn’t recognised the clues before, hadn’t heard the points made year by year.
The version of Luke read as the Gospel yesterday (when the feast of the Transfiguration fell on a Sunday) began ‘about a week after this’, and ‘this’ included Jesus’ teaching ‘the Son of Man has to endure great sufferings and... be put to death...; anyone who wants to be a follower of mine must renounce self; day after day he must take up his cross’.
And, in the encounter with Moses and Elijah on the mountain of Transfiguration, the conversation is explicitly ‘of his departure [literally, his ‘exodus’], the destiny he was to fulfil in Jerusalem’.
So Peter’s babbling on the mountain (‘”Here shall we not make three shelters?”... but he spoke not knowing what he was saying’) feels almost like an attempt to preserve the Transfiguration moment and thus avoid the implications of the going down and facing all this.
And so it struck me particularly this year that a narrative of being found by Jesus and then going deeper into encountering his glory (and our promised glory) will always be in danger of being derailed by the next tragedy to the extent that we might then even say ‘this now disturbs or destroys my faith’, the memory of the Transfiguration feeling like some sort of mirage which has disappeared as we near a reality from which we had hoped Christianity would protect us.
But a narrative of being found by Jesus and then going deeper into encountering his suffering (and our promised suffering) will always open up the possibilities of being refined by the next tragedy to the extent that we might then even say ‘this is what my faith has prepared me to face’, the memory of the Transfiguration feeling like an insight albeit now no longer visible as we near a reality for which Christian hope has readied us.
Here is the view of St Michael’s, Haworth taken from our bedroom window last week. A peculiar part of the responsibility of being here which also impressed itself on me yesterday is that almost half the congregation I preached to were visitors (including those from America, Austria, Italy and Germany), a congregation which included an English Anglican priest and a German Lutheran Pastor, both on holiday, among those who said they were glad to have this attended to.