In the Christian year, this coming Lord’s Day is Transfiguration Sunday. Appropriately, the lectionary texts speak of God’s shining majesty and ways in which humans can reflect such glory. Being in the presence of God transfigures humanity; Moses’ face shone (Exodus 34:29), and those who behold the glory of the Lord, revealed in the face of Christ Jesus, are being changed into his likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18).
The Gospel lesson narrates the privileged experience of three disciples who see Jesus illumined in God’s perpetual brilliance. Interestingly, they never refer to this experience in the early apostolic preaching of Acts. Luke sets this mysterious and evocative event amidst texts that are clarifying Jesus’ identity prior to his final journey to Jerusalem.
Jesus has invited Peter, John and James to go with him up the mountain to pray (Luke 9:28-36). While praying, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.” Scholars have long puzzled over the meaning of this appearance “in glory” (v. 31); do they represent the Law and the Prophets, which Jesus is fulfilling, or do they serve a Christological function, i.e., Jesus surpasses their teaching and actions?
Echoing the divine voice heard only at Jesus’ baptism, God says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.” Who Jesus is can only be fully disclosed by God, and Luke offers this mystical unveiling of Jesus as God’s eternal Son. His authority transcends all that have preceded him in God’s covenantal history; it is his teaching that will bring life.
In preparation to teach a doctoral seminar next month in Myanmar on Incarnational Theology, I am struck once again by God’s self-communication through the humanity of Jesus. As Kathryn Tanner puts it in her fine work Jesus, Humanity, and the Trinity: “Jesus is the one in whom God’s relationship with us attains perfection. In Jesus, unity with God takes a perfect form; here humanity has become God’s own” (p. 9).
Belief in the incarnation is the very heart of our faith as Christians. United with Christ, we begin to shine forth his goodness and mercy in the world. Hopefully, we will remember his true identity as ratified by his death and resurrection. As our lives are conformed to the image of God’s beloved, we have the dignity of reflecting his glory.
Molly T. Marshall
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