I would like you to imagine, in your mind, a vision of glory. It could be someone winning a chair at an Eisteddfod, or being presented with an Olympic gold medal, or crowned as a king or queen. It might be something completely different, but the point is that our human ideas of glory are quite limited. In the Old Testament the glory of God is often seen as a pillar of cloud or fire, or a bright light. Today we are shown Jesus as the manifestation of glory.
This morning’s reading from the Book of Genesis might well see a strange place to begin a discussion about glory. In the passage, God speaks to a seventy-five year old man called Abram, and tells him to leave behind his friends and his native land. God tells Abram to go on a journey into the unknown, to pack up his belongings and go somewhere new. It is quite an undertaking. God also makes several promises to Abram:
‘And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. …. and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ (Gen 12: 2-3)
God’s promise to Abram is a crucial moment in salvation history, for Israel and the whole world, for we are all children of Abraham. Abram listens to God and obeys and puts his trust in Him. God likewise calls each and every one of us to follow Him, and to trust Him. As Christians, we are charged to respond to this call, each and every day.
Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy was written from prison before his execution in Rome. Again, this is not exactly an auspicious situation for the subject of glory. However, this letter is Paul’s extended farewell to his beloved disciple, Timothy. The apostle uses it to reflect on the place of suffering in the Christian life. When we go through difficult times we are united with Christ. This is how we are to understand the life of faith in general and Lent in particular. It is about being close to Jesus, and growing through suffering. This is how we obtain glory.
Just before today’s Gospel passage two important events have taken place. The first is that Peter has declared that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God. Secondly, Our Lord has predicted His passion and Death in Jerusalem. Both of these are key to our understanding of what happens next:
‘And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.’ (Mt 17:1-2)
After six days comes the seventh, the Sabbath, the day of rest, a time to be near to God. There is something about being in the close presence of God that makes people shine. When Moses encounters God on Mount Sinai he glows. This, however, is something more, because in Christ we see the glory of God.
‘And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.’ (Mt 17:3)
Our Lord is not on the mountain on His own. Jesus appears with Moses and Elijah to show His disciples and the Church that He is the fulfilment of both the Law and the Prophets. Scripture points to Him and finds its fulfilment in Him: He is the Messiah, the Son of God, the blessing for all the families of the earth.
‘And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Mt 17:4)
Peter’s response is understandable, it points to the Feast of Tabernacles. This is the Jewish Autumn harvest festival, when Jews live for a week outside in tents with a roof made of leaves. Making tents speaks of hospitality and treating guests with honour, but it also expresses the disciples’ desire to make what is supposed to be a momentary experience into something longer. At this point, God the Father speaks:
‘He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Mt 17:5)
It is not surprising that God’s words are similar here to those He spoke at Jesus’ Baptism. The Father declares that Our Lord is His Beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased, and He commands the disciples to listen to Him. We need to listen to Jesus because He has the words of eternal life, which tell us how to live and flourish as human beings.
The disciples are afraid, because they have just had an encounter with God. That is a totally understandable reaction.
‘But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.”’ (Mt 17: 7)
Our Lord tells His disciples ‘Paid ag ofni’ ‘Do not be afraid’ because God is a God of love. They have glimpsed the glory of the Creator, which is not a cause for fear, but for celebration. God is with His people. Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone about this until after He has risen from the dead. Christ has another summit He must still climb: the hill of Calvary, where He will suffer and die upon the Cross. There Jesus takes our sins upon Himself, restoring our relationship with God and each other. This is real glory — not worldly glory but the glory of God’s love poured out on the world to heal and restore it.
We live surrounded by mountains and, to quote Fulton Sheen:
“Three important scenes of Our Lord’s life took place on mountains. On one, He preached the Beatitudes, the practice of which would bring a Cross from the world; on the second, He showed the glory that lay beyond the Cross; and on the third,He offered Himself in death as a prelude to His glory and that of all who would believe in His name.”Fulton Sheen The Life of Christ 1970: 158
The Transfiguration looks to the Cross as the demonstration of God’s Glory, and can only be understood in the light of it. This is why the disciples are told not to mention it until after the Resurrection. On the Cross we see God’s glory, displayed in sacrificial reconciling love. This is not the world’s idea of glory, but it is God’s. Here we see demonstrated the love which can reconcile humanity. The same love which we hope to enjoy forever in Heaven.
So let us behold God’s glory, here, this morning. Let us touch and taste God’s glory. Let us prepare to be transformed by His love, through the power of His Holy Spirit, so that we may be built up as living stones, into a temple to God’s glory. May our Lenten pilgrimage take us to the Cross and beyond, to experience His glory and give praise to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.