This Sunday is the Sunday next before Lent – and the Church of England lectionary gives us the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration (Luke 9.28-36) to inform our preparations for this penitential season. The lectionary followed by Roman Catholic churches is different - continuing to read through the Gospel of Luke, and reading the Transfiguration story on the Second Sunday of Lent.
There is something very fitting about reading the story of the Transfiguration as we prepare for Lent (or in its early stages). To the disciples – and to us each Lent – it is a glimpse of the destination as we prepare to walk the way of the cross.
So what does the Transfiguration tell us about the direction of the Christian pilgrimage. And what light does this cast on how we might best spend Lent?
- First, and most obviously, it is about the glory of Jesus Christ. Like his Baptism, the Transfiguration is a statement of whom Jesus is – and therefore shows him to be the one on whom our hearts and our sights must focus:
“from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.”
- Secondly, the Transfiguration is about the destiny of the whole creation. This is a point stressed by Orthodox theologians in particular: in the glorification of the earthly Jesus, we see a foretaste of a creation transfigured by God’s glory. This is something we see, in a different way, at every celebration of the Eucharist. As bread and wine become for us the body of Christ, we see the vocation of each Christian, and indeed of the whole created order – to show forth the glory of God.
What does that mean in practice? It involves a recognition that we are stewards not consumers of the world God has given us: which in turn implies a care for, and delight in, the physical environment, and a commitment to sharing its fruits in a way that enables all to experience God’s generosity, compassion and justice.
- Thirdly, the Transfiguration speaks of the indivisibility of prayer and action in the Christian life. Jesus’ glory is revealed as he prays: as his attention is focused on his heavenly Father. It is the fruit of contemplation – but this contemplation moves us to action. Moses and Elijah speak of the cross (“ his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem”) and Jesus’ rejects the temptation to remain in the safety and tranquility of the mountain-top vision. For disciples of Jesus Christ, prayer and practice are inextricably linked.
Pray for your own church and for its Lent programme, and for God’s guidance on your own journey through this holy season. Pray that it may be rooted in prayer, and bear fruit in a clearer vision of who Jesus Christ is; better stewardship of the world he has given us, and a deeper attention to his presence in all people.