Feast of the Transfiguration A
Sunday 6th August 2023
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
Six days after Peter had proclaimed Jesus as ‘The Christ, the Son of the Living God’, after Jesus had explained to the disciples about his coming suffering and death and after giving his call to them to take up their cross and lose their life in order to save it, Jesus took his closest disciples Peter, James and James’ brother John up a high mountain to be alone with them.
There, he was extraordinarily transformed before them. His face became as radiant as the sun and his clothes were as though made of light. And all of a sudden, Moses and Elijah, the great figures of the Law and the Prophets, were talking with him. Peter, not knowing what was happening, said: ‘Lord, I think it is just amazing that we are here, do you want me to build three tents, you know, one for you, and one each for Moses and Elijah’. While he was still speaking like this, a bright cloud descended upon them and cast everything into shadow. And, all of a sudden, a voice came out of the cloud: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased. Hear him!’
Hearing this, the disciples fell on their faces, paralysed with fear. Then Jesus came up to them and touched them saying ‘Come on, get up, don’t be afraid.’ And looking up, they saw nothing but only Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them: ‘Do not tell anyone about this vision until the Son of Man has been raised up from the dead.’
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Radiant God, the glory of your love shines in our lives. Send us your Spirit to open our eyes and hearts to the glory of Jesus shining in the people and the situations that you give us. We ask this in Jesus’ name confident that you will hear us.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
Location is important with some Gospel events and especially so with the Transfiguration. All three synoptic Gospels place this event immediately after Peter’s profession of Jesus as ‘The Christ of God’, after Jesus’ own prophecy regarding his Passion and after his call to the disciples to carry their own cross. All three Gospels have Jesus’ second prediction of his Passion following soon after this event. The revelation of the glory of Jesus is firmly fixed within the narrative of his suffering, death and resurrection. Glory is not experienced divorced from suffering and brokenness, but in a beyond that can only come about by going through them.
The Gospel describes a factual event but one rich in symbolism. Moses and Elijah represent the twin strands of biblical tradition: the Law and the Prophets. Both experienced a mysterious death; both had led the Israelite people at great personal cost; both had pleaded with God on behalf of their people.
The word ‘transfiguration’ (‘metamorphoses’ in the Greek) is unlike any other use of this word in the New Testament. In other places it speaks of a change of one thing to another. Here, rather, the inner reality of Jesus shines forth from within him. He does not become something different but rather reveals himself and that revelation is blinding.
No wonder what Peter says makes no sense. No commentator has adequately ‘explained’ Peter’s words. They usually make reference to the Feast of Booths or to his attempt to prolong the experience. Actually, I see it as a marvellous example of how, when we are overawed by the presence of God, our words fail and we look foolish. How inept his words are is underlined by the Father’s voice speaking over them. Peter’s experience, like all such experiences of God, continued to feed his experience in later years. We see this in the Second Letter of Peter, where as a much older man, Peter’s faith is still being strengthened by what he heard on the mountain. (See 2 Pet 1:16-19)
The experience ends abruptly and the disciples are left in the presence of a tender, compassionate Jesus who understands their fear. Touching them, he breaks them out of what must have seemed like a trance. Then the person who stands before them is the human person that they know: ‘Jesus only’.
As they come down the mountain he orders them not to speak of this vision until after his resurrection. Only after he has passed through his death will this vision begin to make sense.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
With the Christian virtue of hope, time collapses. Into the present come the richness of the past and the glory of the future. We see this in the Transfiguration of Jesus. Moses and Elijah, the great figures of the biblical traditions of the Law and the Prophets, are with Jesus talking of his Passing. The Glory of the future Kingdom is revealed coming from the face of Jesus and flooding all present. And the reality of who Jesus is radiates from him and is confirmed by the Father’s voice.
_What on earth does this all mean for us?_ Is this just a nice Gospel story that had meaning for Jesus and little for us?
Let us consider our own lives at present. Each of us can look back and with some thought see patterns that have brought us to this moment. With some prayer we can come to see the times when God’s grace has guided the, often crooked, lines of our life. What we have learnt from the past can enrich our lives here and now.
Let us consider our life as it moves into the future. We all have great desires for ourselves, especially in relation to love. We want to love greatly and to be loved. We know that is the desire of our souls. But we also know that loving is hard and that we often fail. In our faith, we believe that this extraordinary desire for love will be fulfilled, one day, in God and that knowledge keeps us working at love, giving and receiving from others.
These two aspects of hope, past and future, feed into our present. We can allow the wisdom of our past and the desires for our future to transfigure the ordinary events of daily life. We can stand with Jesus and know ourselves to be beloved of God. While we may not have radiant light streaming from our face, we will have the light of God’s love shining within us, giving us enough hope for at least the next step.
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
Over 30 years ago I was asked to visit an elderly woman in respite care. With the curtains drawn, the lights out, the room was very dark but her face shone in the dark. It was striking. She had her Bible open in front of her. I doubt that there was enough light for her to be able to read but it was a sign of her prayer. As we got talking I soon learnt that she knew herself as beloved of God and she lived with an attitude of praise and gratitude in spite of the crippling arthritis that had twisted her body. As you can imagine, the staff found her a delight to care for.
The vision of the glow on her face has remained with me over the years. I want to be like that when I am an old woman but I have to begin now. I need to live recognising that I am beloved of God and living with a spirit of praise and gratitude even in the midst of life’s hard challenges.
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
The scene of the Transfiguration has long been a favourite of artists. Below is a small selection of what is available for view on the web.
– This Gospel episode is regarded highly in the Orthodox Church. This icon by Theophanes the Greek is one of the most prized presentations. Theopanes (1340-c.1410), from Muscovite Russia, was a Byzantine Greek. He was noted as the teacher of the great Andrei Rublev.
– Raphael (1483 – April 6, 1520), is one of the great masters of the High Renaissance. His Transfiguration is unusual in that he has figures other than those mentioned in the Gospel text. The reaction to the extraordinary scene taking place is mixed. It is as though the painting is asking us the viewer what reaction are we going to take?
– Titian (c. 1488/1490 –1576) was an Italian painter, the most important of the Venetian School.
– Cornelius Monsma, originally from the Netherlands, has lived in New Zealand for decades. This painting shows the inspiration of Marc Chagall.
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
We all have moments when God has touched out lives; perhaps at the birth of a child or a grandchild, perhaps in the midst of grief, perhaps when surfing or gardening.
Over this week, mull on those times. Gently pray about them and ask God for any more wisdom and consolation that you can draw from that experience.
One of the mysteries of those moments is how they can continue to feed the spirit years after the event. Take those moments and ‘carry them like stones in your pocket’, mulling over them at free times.
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
Rest in the love of your God.
You are God’s Beloved, rest in that love.
Imagine that love filling you: your mind, your heart, your thoughts, your actions.
Filled with that love imagine what would change in your life. Stay with those changes for some time and imagine ways they would be lived out. Ask Jesus to be with you guiding your imagination.
After some time focus on one change and consider a few practical ways you could live it in your life.
Now go forth, Beloved of God and bring God’s love and joy into our world.