Once upon a time, there was a man whose wife died, leaving him to bring up their only daughter; so he married again. His second wife was a sharp-tongued, stuck-up sort, and she had two daughters of her own who were just as bad. The man’s own daughter was as gentle and good-natured as her mother had been.
It wasn’t long before the stepmother and her two daughters began to make the poor girl’s life a misery. They were always mean to her, and treated her just like a servant. The only place she could find any peace was in the chimney-corner, among the cinders: so they laughed at her, and called her Cinderella. But Cinderella in rags was still far prettier than her stepsisters, for all their finery.
You know the rest of the story.
As I was reading and reflecting on the Feast of the Transfiguration in preparation for today, I came across a very interesting article by the Rev’d Terrance W. Klein, a priest in the Diocese of Dodge City. Let me quote to you from what he said.
Ask yourself this. What did the Fairy Godmother really do for Cinderella? Yes, a pumpkin coach, with four white mice for horsemen, is grand, but, walking into the ball, she was still Cinderella, just cleaned-up, coiffed, and corseted. Yet that was all it took for the world see her in a new way, see her for who she truly was. It’d be fair to say that her Fairy Godmother didn’t really change Cinderella. She reset her, as one does a jewel, or, to use our Latinate phrase, she transfigured her. Yet she was always the same girl: at the fireplace, at the ball, and in front of the prince, proffering that slipper. Fairy magic did no more than help folk to see what always was, right in front of them.
We [do] know this about the Transfiguration. Three apostles were given an utterly unique experience of the Christ, one which, they admit, was not truly intelligible until the event of Resurrection. Like the Prince and Cinderella at the ball, it was a moment to savor. A night of profound intimacy and beauty—Remember that great line from the Rogers and Hammerstein’s adaptation? “Do I love you because you’re beautiful? Or are you beautiful, because I love you? – but comprehension came later, when the glass slipper fit and everything fell into place.
Yes, it’s true. At present we wander through our woes like the prince savoring his one poor slipper. But we know the one whom we love was here, that he will yet be found, and that all shall be well.1
The story of the Transfiguration reminds me that, though I remain human and flawed, covered in the marks of the dirt that clings to us in life, I have witnessed through Jesus, the closeness of heaven to earth, God reaching out to meet me in the midst of my weakness, failure, confusion and fear, bathing me in the light of God’s love, making me God’s beloved child.
Jesus’ appearance shines with light, not an earthly light but the light of heaven that comes simultaneously from God pouring God’s glory onto Jesus, and from within Jesus, revealing his divine glory. Jesus, we see, belongs as much to heaven as to earth.
When he is transfigured, suddenly, we can see who Jesus truly is, within the depths of his being: God from God, light from light, true God from true God. And the promise for each one of us is that through the glorious and transforming power of God, we too can experience God’s transforming power in our lives.
The symbolism of the Transfiguration tells us that this is a story of the meeting, communication, and crossing over, between the human everyday, and God’s mystery. Jesus is the point of intersection for all these things.2 It is in Jesus that the divine and the human meet, and the world is changed.
The Transfiguration is a celebration of who Jesus is and of the transformed life we are invited to live. In this feast, we offer thanks for God’s continuing revelation, and we are reminded that those graces and blessings we receive in “mountaintop encounters” are to be shared with those around us, especially with those who need to know the transforming love of God, revealed in Christ.
The blinding light and the cloud on the Mount of the Transfiguration sit eerily in our lectionary with the blinding light and the cloud from the nuclear bombs that were detonated 76 years ago over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And yet, it is an appropriate pairing because although the Transfiguration reveals, through Jesus, the glory of God become flesh, that is not the whole story. Jesus’ identity is dual, it is expressed in glory and in suffering, the transfiguration and the cross.
God’s voice that says to the disciples, this is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him! (Mark 9:7) demands that, in the glory of the transfiguration, they don’t forget Jesus’ prediction of his own rejection, suffering, death and rising again. Nor can they forget Jesus’ confronting promise that those who want to save their own life will lose it but those who lose their life for his sake and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it (Mark 8:31, 35).
In Mark’s Gospel, what it means to be a disciple is bound up with the understanding of who Jesus is. The dual images of cross and glory provide the way through which we are called to follow Jesus. It is hard to hold together these apparent opposites, but we live in a world with a desperate need to see that God’s way involves both.
God’s power and glory is expressed in self-revelation, communication, acceptance. This is not the kind of destructive power unleashed by a nuclear bomb. It is not the kind of power and glory that people can grab hold of and use to their own ends. God’s power and glory must be seen and understood alongside the cross. Because of this we are enabled to trust that no matter what suffering comes our way, God’s power and glory is at work in our lives, transforming us. As we seek to be disciples of God’s beloved Son, all our failings & misunderstandings are brought into the presence of God; into conversation with God, where through love we too are transfigured.3
This is a wonderful, hopeful message for people living in our sixth lockdown, in the midst of a global pandemic. It is good to know that we worship a God in whom glory is made manifest through self-offering and the transformation of suffering and death.
The Hiroshima Peace Park has transformed a place that was the site of unimaginable suffering and destruction into a place of beauty, committed to peace.
The body of the resurrected Christ is a place in which unimaginable suffering and destruction has been transformed into a place of beauty, peace, hope and love. The story of the Transfiguration tells us that the truth of God’s glory revealed in Jesus was not something that happened only after the resurrection, the truth of the glory of God incarnate was always there, even though mostly, people could not see it.
Through the Transfiguration of Jesus, God has revealed to us the glory that already is, and has given us a glimpse of the glory that is to come.
So, let us pray that God’s transforming power, revealed in both the cross and the glory of the Transfiguration, may work in us, transforming our places of suffering and destruction into places of beauty and peace. And let us pray for eyes to see that unfolding miracle in ourselves and in each other.