The Transfiguration (sermon)


2 Peter 1:16-21       St Mark 9:2-7a


Jesus …was transfigured before them: and
his face shone like the sun and his garments became white as light.
[St Matthew 17:2]


We celebrate today the Transfiguration of our Lord.  It is the historical moment in Jesus’ life when he revealed something of his majesty, something of his glory to a few chosen witnesses.

What was normally hidden in Jesus life was then revealed.

Now if you have a beloved, your spouse or perhaps a very close friend, you know that you are still learning things about one another, even after years.  We cannot reveal the hidden things of who we are at a deep level until we have confidence that the other person will treat that revelation with the care and the confidence it deserves.  Maybe it is something which we ashamed or embarrassed about, or maybe it is something which is very close to our heart, something of great beauty, something saved until the time is right for it to be shared.

Daniëlle has told me of one psychoanalist (Donald Winnicott) who describes the introvert, of which I am in an extreme – "it is a joy to be hidden, but it is a disaster not to be found out!"

Now we know that our Lord has nothing to be ashamed of, but He does have much that he would share that is of the greatest beauty, but he cannot reveal everything at once of what he knows or of who he is, but only as his disciples are ready.

And Jesus did not reveal it to all the disciples but to three witnesses from within that chosen twelve: Peter, James and John.  And Jesus knew the time was right only after Peter had come to see, by grace, and to confess, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  So six days after that moment, Jesus took these three witnesses aside to show them something of who He is.  It is not that Jesus is changed here to become something that he was not before, but that the radiance of the Divine in Christ, normally veiled in human flesh, was momentarily allowed to shine forth, to be seen – they saw something of the uncreated Light of Light, of Jesus’ majesty.

Peter says later in one of his letters that he is not following “cunningly devised fables” but this is his personal testimony.  Peter says in his letter “…we were eyewitnesses of his majesty…For we were with him on the holy mountain.”  [2 Pet 1:16-17]  And John in his gospel would surely have had this moment in mind when he wrote:  “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory…”   [John 1:14]

This showing forth of the glory of God in Jesus Christ in a moment of his earthly life, demonstrates the teaching that Jesus is fully human and fully Divine.  It is a vision of the reality that Jesus suffered in the flesh being human, and yet could say, “I and the Father are One” [St John 10:30].


The celebration of the Feast of the Transfiguration was widely established much earlier in the Orthodox East, perhaps because of their greater focus on our deification (their word for what we normally in the West call our sanctification, our being made holy).  It was first widely celebrated in the West, on August 6, by a decree of Pope Callistus III, to commemorate the victory over the Turks in Belgrade in 1457.  In more recent revisions of the lectionary the Transfiguration is now celebrated at the end of Epiphany season, which also makes sense, as a kind of climax of the revealing of who Jesus is.

But I would like to suggest it is good to celebrate at this time of year as it fits so well with our Traditional Sunday readings.  Over the past six weeks we have been considering the transformation of our passions -  putting to death the excesses of those passions and understanding what is a right ordering of those passions.  It is about the purgation of our souls.

That fiery purging of passions, is painful, costly, a real suffering, if we are serious about our transformation.  But it is followed by the greater illumination of our souls by grace – something we hope to look at in the next seven weeks.

St. Paul has told us in Trinity 4 that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

St Paul told us last Sunday (in T8) that we are the children of God.  And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.

The Transfiguration is a glimpse of how we can be taken up into God, how God will dwell in us, and fill us with His glory – as our souls are made ready.  It is the vision of our deification – not our becoming God, but God indwelling us.


This moment should remind us of an event in the life of Moses.  When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of stone containing the Ten Commandments – the Scripture says, “the skin of [Moses’] face shone because he had been talking with God.  And when Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.”  [Ex 34]

But if we compare the result of Moses’ encounter with God with Jesus’ Transfiguration, we see that it is qualitatively different.  Moses was transformed as if from without and it affected the exposed skin of his face.

Under the Old Covenant, we have impressed upon us, from without, something of God’s glory.  It is what happens to us as we are exposed to the teaching of the Law of love and seek to conform our lives to the ways of love.  It will affect the outward appearance of our lives in a good way but leaves us also wanting more, desiring the transforming of our hearts inwardly as we realize a battle going on within ourselves that we can only lose on our own – As St Paul describes it, “For [we] do not do the good [we] want, but the evil [we] do not want, is what [we] do.”

Yet in the case of Jesus, the radiance was pouring forth from within Him– not only did His face shine like the sun, but all his clothes were dazzling brightness.  No veil could ever hide it!

Under the New Covenant, God transfigures us from within by His indwelling us – not only our outward actions change, but our hearts.  Remember the Tabernacle in the Wilderness?  The glory of God that appeared in the tabernacle in the Old Covenant when it was set up properly, is the glory that appears more and more in our hearts, in our souls, under the New Covenant as our lives are ordered by grace.

Imagine having nothing anymore to hide, nothing to be ashamed of or to regret, and also nothing lacking in our personhood, complete fulfillment (– where Christ is all in all).  This is the glorified life God is preparing each of us for and which He is beginning to communicate to us, to share with us, even in this present earthly life.

Do you see how full of hope and how full of love, our Gospel is today?

St John says in his first letter, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are…what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  [1 John 3:1a,2b]


Are we ready for that glory to be revealed to us and in us?

The revelation of God’s glory at the Transfiguration of Jesus was overpowering to the Disciples:

  • Matthew records that “they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe.”
  • Mark says, “they were exceedingly afraid.”
  • Luke recounts that, “they were all heavy with sleep…and were afraid as they entered the cloud.” The Disciples were sleepy not because they were tired from their journey to the mountaintop, but it was their souls shutting down in exhaustion because they were so weak and unprepared to contemplate the Divine.

And in this moment we catch a glimpse of the great mercy of God towards us – that God is veiled and draws near to us in Jesus Christ so that, in our unreadiness, we might not be destroyed or oppressed by His glory.  Yet God wants us not to back away but rather to draw near.  And on the mountain, Jesus, who finds the disciples unwilling to look, with their faces to the earth, touched them saying, “Rise and have no fear.”

The Father says we prepare ourselves, by Listening to his Son.  St John says, And everyone who thus hopes in Jesus, purifies himself as he is pure.

Despite our spiritual weakness, despite the darknesses of our souls and our unreadiness, Jesus says to each of us today – “Rise and have no fear.”

Listening to Jesus, let us now prepare our souls through repentance and faith to be cleansed of our darkness, through His self-offering on the Cross.  Jesus will make us ready not only to see His glory, but to be glorified by His presence within us, filled with His light, as St Peter says, “partakers of the Divine nature.”  And so we will shine as the Son and bear witness to His glory to one another and to the whole world.

Amen +

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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Psalm 127:1,2