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Who is God? How is God in the world? Those are the fundamental questions of faith and spirituality. To some extent how we come to respond to them identifies and shapes how we live out our own spirituality. In fact maybe those responses are what’s behind the commonly expressed assertion in our culture of “I’m spiritual, not religious.”
Today’s scripture is the story of the Transfiguration. We read it in worship annually on this Sunday, the last before Lent: a time of transformation, in between regular time and an unique spiritual season of preparation. The word is similar to transformation. In Harry Potter-ese (if you’re a fan) it’s used to describe a part of magic that deals with changing one element/thing into another. Classically the word denotes a change in form or appearance, with a spiritual emphasis.
It’s the culminating experience of Jesus in his public ministry and presence. He is recognized, witnessed by his three closest friends, as the Divine One by God. A sort of veil is pulled back in the world which enables them to glimpse the true depth of his spiritual and divine being. He’s not so much as transformed as transfigured in front of their eyes. He doesn’t change permanently, but rather he is seen as he truly is for a brief ephemeral moment. Truth is known, like sun rays breaking through storm clouds.
On the mountain Jesus is accompanied by Moses (the great leader of the Hebrew people and symbol of the Torah Law given by God) and Elijah (the greatest of the prophets, who represents the prophetic tradition). They not only recognize Jesus as the Son, the anointed one, the Messiah, but also serve him in a reciprocal-like relationship. Silenced by shock and awe, the disciples are like deer in a headlight, before Peter offers to build a structure, a tent like tabernacle so that they can stay in this mountain-top experience for ever. But that’s not the point. Jesus is God’s image in the world not on the mountaintop, but everywhere. God desires to be seen, encountered and known in relationship.
We live in a time in which people look less and less to the church as the mediator, or the revealer of God’s presence and person in our world. (I think this is what they mean by ‘religion’.) Increasingly we look for and glimpse the Divine in the world around us: in sunsets, fleeting full moments of natural beauty, relational encounters, service that moves us beyond ourselves, and other similar ways. (I think that’s what they mean by ‘spiritual’.) The reality is that we don’t have to chose between one or the other. God is near and far, transcendent and immanent, infinitely close and unfathomably transcendent. The problem is that the Church (& other religious institutions) have often gotten in the way of such practiced spirituality.
Questions for Going Deeper:
Image Credit : “Transfiguration” – by Sócrates Magno Torres
Download a textual analysis study sheet of this text to use for your own study HERE.