Thinking about Transfiguration

Epiphany’s gradual illumination leads ultimately to the story of Christ’s Transfiguration. I will preach from Matthew 17 this Sunday. During my study yesterday, I felt no sure direction. The best thing I’ve got–which I like more this morning than I did yesterday afternoon–is the repetition of “Behold!” as the first response humans must have when God’s glory appears. What else could we do but behold?

(It’s worth noting that in the pew Bible we use, NIV1984, the word behold never appears as such. The KJV makes it explicit all three times, the NASB two of the three. I think it’s repetition is at least worth seeing, or should I say beholding?)

In any case, I turned to some trusted companions to see whether their beholding might open something up for me. Maybe they will help you, too. I am also sure there is a Mary Oliver poem worthy of inclusion, but I don’t have her book with me. I’ll add it if I find it.

God bless you as you prepare!

Transfiguration: A Few Quotes

Between Matthew 17:1-8 (Jesus’s transfiguration) and 27:27-56 (Jesus’s crucifixion) there is a curious confluence of similar motifs and contrasting images. We have here a pictorial antithetical parallelism, something like a diptych in which the two plates have similar outlines but different colors.

—D. Allison, “The Embodiment of God’s Will” in Seek the Identity of Christ, Gaventa & Hays, p. 130

So we must say that, like the Transfiguration itself, these heavenly visions are—to borrow the powerful phrase of Karl Barth’s—the Reality of the Other side in the language and terms of the near side. 

—K. Sonderegger, Systematic Theology Volume 1, p. 438

“So it is that on the Mount of Transfiguration, the revelation of the divine glory in Jesus takes the form of an ineffable brightness on which the disciples cannot bear to look.”

—I. McFarland, The Word Made Flesh, p. 41

Such a hope is defined not by an escape from earthly existence, but rather by the transfiguration of that existence so that it is and may be sustained in God’s presence. As “the first fruits of those who have died,” Jesus initiates that transfigured mode of life, which the redeemed will share at his coming.”

—I. McFarland, The Word Made Flesh, p. 184 / Theophanes the Greek, 15th century.

[The purpose of the transfiguration] was to give them for the time a taste of immortality. Still they cannot find there a twofold body, but only the one which he had assumed, arrayed in new glory. 

—J. Calvin, Institutes, Book 4.17

This interchange between God and man was in a special way made visible at Christ’s Transfiguration. The Transfiguration on Mount Tabor lets us sense the ultimate purpose of the incarnation. “In his outward appearance he was like us; for in his boundless love he took it upon himself to become creature, yet without changing [his divinity], and thus he became the image [typos] and symbol of himself: he has revealed himself symbolically out of his inner being; through himself who is visible he has drawn the whole of creation to himself who is invisible and totally hidden” (Maxiumus)

— C. Schönborn, God’s Human Face, p. 130. 

On Mount Tabor, in Christ’s Transfiguration, does not the divine glory for a brief moment break through the obscure veil of the flesh?…The Word would guide us “from himself to himself,” and this journey, this transition, is indeed the “paschal passage” of the Lord, that “exodus” about which Christ conversed with Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration. In his paschal passage, Christ leads “all of creation” to the Father, for he, once lifted up from the earth, draws all to himself…By letting ourselves be guided by him on the way of his paschal passage, we ourselves will be “changed into his image, from glory to ever greater glory” (2 Cor. 3:18). 

—C. Schönborn, God’s Human Face, p. 131

We find it, we hear and receive this word where it resounded anew in all its power and fulness, where it rang out as the human answer to the divine good. “Lord, it is good that we are here.” Through this answer, on the mount of the transfiguration, was witnessed forever, for all time, man’s reception of the divine good as his life, as his calling…And it is by this vision, this knowledge, this experience that the Church, in her deepest depths, lives.

— A. Schmemann, The Eucharist, p. 165

2 thoughts on “Thinking about Transfiguration

  1. Pingback: Behold: A Transfiguration Song – Theology Forum

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