That shining moment

Is it such a radical change?  His face shone like the sun, and his clothes were made dazzling white – but isn’t that how we imagine Jesus is?  Had he been so dull – so ordinary that this moment was necessary?  I doubt it – but the gospel recorders have ensured that this moment is important in how we understand all that happens next.

What happens next, you say?  Well, we’re only a heartbeat away from a disastrous trip to Jerusalem – the last visit for Jesus.  We hover on the edge of the season of Lent; a season of preparation and penitence that sets the stage for the week of passion and glory that culminates in our Easter celebrations.

And Matthew’s gospel goes further.  “Tell no one about the vision until after the son of man has been raised from the dead.”  The crucifixion and resurrection is certainly the destination for this journey of ours, but the gospel writer suggests that we won’t understand anything until we have been there – done that; until we have been shocked by an arrest, trial and execution; until we have been called by name in the pale dawn of Easter by our risen Lord.

And this is what makes this afternoon on the mountain such a difficult thing; perhaps the disciples were prepared to think highly of their teacher – he was smart, kind, wise in the ways of God, but was this finally the one God had promised?  He was compelling enough to have drawn them away from their families, their trades, but could he be the king that would unite the nation under God?

Living on the other side of the story as we do, we cannot imagine that there was ever a time when the glory of God wasn’t absolutely evident in Jesus.  In art, in children’s stories, in movies and the mythology that grows up around Jesus, we only know him transformed.  There is no ‘Jesus-without-glory’ for us.  But for Peter, James and John – for those first few who were called from their boats – how difficult must it have been to imagine the truth…

According to Matthew’s account, Peter has just made that determination.  “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  This declaration leads to a conversation about the real consequences that await Jesus for living up to Peter’s assessment; betrayal, arrest, suffering, death, and on the third day, raised.  It made no sense, and Peter was quick to say so, glory and power of the kind they imagined was not subject to the defeat of death.  This is the setting Matthew gives this moment on the mountain; a chance to see, real glory – that can only be understood in the company of real suffering – real tragedy – real life.

The glory we imagine – this shiny Jesus, back-lit and dazzling in his beauty, surrounded by heroes of the faith and the sounds of eternal worship – that glory can only be understood in the context of the real world.  Isolated devotion; faith communities that hold themselves apart from the ordinary grind of the world, hoping to be saved by the glory of tradition, or the glory of…past glories – these attempts don’t tell the whole story.  Peter wanted to revel in the moment – to build shelters and honour the glory, alone and apart from the world; Jesus led them back down the mountain and urged them to silence until the full truth had been told.  Glory doesn’t make sense without grief.

Living on the other side of the story, we have become well acquainted with grief, and that, for some, is an incredible disappointment.  Jesus is risen; life has triumphed over death; shouldn’t we be bathed in glory now?  There are those who would live as though glory and only glory was ours in Christ – and they make glory for themselves by extravagant means.  Women and men of unequalled religious convictions have built monuments to this ‘so called’ glory; people of faith who have decided that following Jesus is the key to worldly success.  They would have us confuse prosperity with the glory of God.  But they have it wrong.

The moment of glory – the shiny, startling revelation of the reality of God-with-us – is not something that was ever meant to be the climax of the story. The feel-good, let’s-preserve-this-for-all-time event actually comes at the disciple’s darkest moment.  This shining moment isn’t the high point of the story, it is the story; the idea that God’s glory has been present, all along; that the glory of God is the companion of us all; that the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus takes place by the grace of that constantly present, but only occasionally visible glory.

“Tell no one… until the Son of man is raised from the dead.”  In that moment when the darkness seems overwhelming, only then will you remember that the light of God’s glory has been among you all along.

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