The Glimpse of Glory – Pastor Donna Doutt 3-3-19
Friends, we come today, once again to our Transfiguration Sunday. We’re on the doorstep of the Lenten season that begins this week with our Ash Wednesday service at 7:00 pm.
For those of you who knew me when I wasn’t a pastor, I have to tell you that I realized this week that this is the fourth time I’ve preached on Transfiguration Sunday!
Since I’ve already preached this multiple times, I questioned how I can approach this subject with a fresh perspective. For this week’s message, I’ve turned to the art world. I love art! I’ve been so blessed that I’ve had the opportunity to visit the National Gallery, the Tate, and the National Portrait Gallery in London. I love the old masters and especially their interpretation of Biblical moments.
Let me present to you Raphaels’ exquisite painting “The Transfiguration.” The Transfiguration is the last painting by the Italian High Renaissance master Raphael. Commissioned by Cardinal Giulio de Medici, who later because Pope Clement VII (1523–1534), it was conceived as an altarpiece for the Narbonne Cathedral in France. Commissioned in 1516, Raphael worked on it until his death in 1520. The painting exemplifies Raphael's development as an artist and the culmination of his career. What’s unusual about this depiction of the Transfiguration of Jesus in Christian art, the subject is combined with an additional episode from the Gospels in the lower part of the painting. That makes this piece of art so appropriate for today’s message, because we hear “the rest of the story” in this painting.
This story of the Transfiguration has always amused and baffled me. There’s a sense of “mystery” behind this event. James, John, and Peter have been with Jesus for a while now, but yet they have failed to hear….to perceive…to understand that Jesus is the Christ, the true Son of God.
Our scripture opens with this: “Jesus[a] took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.” Then goes on to tell us: 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep…”. Do you feel the resemblance of this moment to the garden of Gethsemane? This is an indicator of the disciples’ inability to comprehend Jesus. They’re about to see something that few in this human world have known, yet they are “weighed down” with sleep.See here…we have the drowsing disciples in our painting.
Suddenly, they’re startled to alertness by a dazzling white light and they see Jesus transformed in a way they can’t understand. And here’s the really exciting part…this glowing, luminescent Jesus is joined by none other than MOSES AND ELIJAH (that’s who these figures are here in the painting.) And, better yet, they talked with him specifically of the coming death of Jesus in Jerusalem. But here’s where the mystery of all of this just baffles me…Peter, James, and John failed to see the presence of Moses and Elijah and their conversation with Jesus as clear and obvious evidence that Jesus the Christ came in fulfillment of Israel’s prophecies. If you were standing around talking to Jesus and Moses and Elijah appeared, wouldn’t you accept that as a sign that this was fulfillment of what the prophets had talked about all through the Old Testament?
Lori Brandt Hale, associate professor of religion at Augsburg University in Minneapolis writes, “When the three disciples finally and fully awoke, they were amazed at the sight before them.” It starts to read like a sitcom script: Peter scrambles to his feet and in a disorienting awakening, starts planning to build booths as if there was going to be a Jewish festival of feast. But woah now! In the midst of this comedic scrambling to build booths comes this voice from the clouds: “This is my Son, who I have chosen; listen to him.” All that’s missing is the cosmic hand of God reaching down and slapping Peter upside the head. When the cloud lifts, Moses and Elijah are gone, Jesus stand alone, and we see the Peter James and John have all missed the point…Jesus has come to fulfill the prophesies. Yet they tell no one.
Now let’s go back here to our painting. If the disciples were the only ones up there on the mountain, who are all these people down here in the bottom part of the painting? Everything looks chaotic…everyone is milling about….
Well, let’s hear “the rest of the story.” Verse 37 of today’s reading continues; “On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he[e] shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God.”
Down here, we’ve got disciples trying to cure this boy. One critic states, “Frustration is palpable in the outstretched arms and panicked faces of the crowd.” Then in the midst of all of these figures, we see two people….only two, point in the direction of the mountain, where we see the transfigured Jesus shining in this luminescent white light. This….this Jesus…is the one who comes down the mountain bringing healing and new life, “a transfigured” life to this young boy.
Of all of these people in this crowd at the bottom, only two are pointing to the one to whom we should be looking…the one who can heal, the one can resurrect us, the one who has the power to sustain us through all things and to transfigure us into a new person! In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is the savior not only of this young boy, but of the whole world!
This makes me think about how we, as Christians, only see rare glimpses of God. Much of the time we could be accused of dozing off too. Indeed if we were really to see God in all His glory we would be confused and terrified, just as Peter, James and John were. Let us keep our ears tuned to the voice of God that says, “This is my Son!”
In this world in which we live, in these troubling times of disasters, violence, hatefulness, war, God is at work to be the light for us. The one who can transfigure you and me!
Remember those lines from the Battle Hymn of the Republic,
“In the third verse, we sing: In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free
While God is marching on”
God IS marching on. His Son Jesus Christ died for us, for you and me, so that we too could be transfigured from sinner to disciples.
Here we have the One who shines on us.
Through the gifts that this church offers us on behalf of Him, our worship and sacraments, prayer and fellowship, service and work for the mission and ministry of this community, the beautiful luminescent cloud transfigures you and me, and provides us a glimpse of glory! Allelujah! Amen.
 Wikipedia contributors. (2019, January 2). Transfiguration (Raphael). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 15:48, February 26, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Transfiguration_(Raphael)&oldid=876523959
 Howe, M. D. S. G. J. W. (1862) Battle Hymn of the Republic. Oliver Ditson & Co., Boston. [Notated Music] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,