This homily was preached at a retreat house Eucharist on this day, the Feast of the Transfiguration, in 2006. It wonders about glory and downward mobility: “about what we think is up or down, high or low, glory or shame, and about which way we will travel, and how, and with whom.”
Readings: Daniel 7:9-14; 2 Peter 1:16-19; Mark 9:2-10
We’ve reached here the highpoint of Jesus ministry. Literally. In recent weeks he’s raised the dead, he’s made a meal for a multitude out of scraps and gleanings, he’s walked on water … and everywhere the crowds are following him in droves. These are his glory days. And here on this mountain top his glory is unwrapped for a moment in light and shadow for us to glimpse what he is and what he will become. Metamorphosis, the Greek calls it. He speaks here as equal—and more—with Moses and Elijah. And the voice that at his baptism had whispered in his ear, ‘Beloved’, now roars it out from the cloud of glory, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him’.
But this is the high point of his ministry and from here on there’s no way but down. And downhill it will go, into opposition and misunderstanding and failure and fear and pain and death. So much for glory.
But it seems God wants us to listen to what we have heard here and understand the glory we have glimpsed. Not as consolation prize but as promise. Somehow God is putting the stamp of approval on all that will unfold. God is saying, downhill isn’t the disaster it seems.
There is glory here and now with shock and awe and special effects but there will be too, all the way through, even when the light is extinguished and we can’t see it all.
We are wrong about glory. This is to teach us that glory isn’t what we thought it was.
‘Whatever happens, listen to him’. Jesus takes up the baton from Moses and Elijah and takes up with it their ministry of liberation, a ministry only ever carried out by bearing the glory of God vulnerably among the world’s violence.
We thought glory was shiny. We were wrong.
There are ironies here. The original feast of the transfiguration was a local affair in Armenia and thereabouts until it was made universal in 1456. Why? To mark a victory over Islam at the Battle of Belgrade 550 years ago today. Glory?
And you can’t remember August 6th without the scouring light and mushroom cloud of Hiroshima 61 years ago today. Glory?
And who knows what violence and victory August 6th will be remembered for this year?
But it’s also about what we remember and what we value in ourselves. About what we think is up or down, high or low, glory or shame, and about which way we will travel, and how, and with whom.