When Jesus was baptised by John the Spirit descended upon him and we hear the words: ‘this is my Son, the Beloved, my favour rests on him.’ On that day the heavens opened, and the Spirit descended upon him like a dove.
Today he gathers Peter, James and John with him. As far as they understand, they are going off to be alone with him, for some peace, for some prayer. They got more than they were expecting!
What would my reaction have been if I were on the mountain with Jesus? How would I respond when ‘he was transfigured; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light’? I would probably respond with a mixture of awe, fear and confusion,
The presence of Moses and Elijah is wonderful, however, and Peter wants to capture it: ‘I will make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’. Peter has missed the point—this is not a moment to linger. Symbolising the whole of the Law and the Prophets, their appearance underlines the importance of this event, that Jesus is central to God’s plan for creation, everything leads to him, and what he must do cannot be delayed for long.
The disciples are given a glimpse of who Jesus really is: the power of God shining forth in his very body, a foretaste of the power that will raise him from the dead. His nature is being revealed in a way that is striking and sublime.
We have in many ways forgotten how to speak about ‘nature’, about ‘being’. We have to some extent replaced it with talk of something being ‘in my genes’. To be technical for a moment, we tend to replace metaphysics with biology, among other things—partly because we can analyse them, and even control them. The Transfiguration reminds us to look more deeply.
It is not Jesus’ genes that are revealed to Peter, James and John; nor merely his thoughts laid before them. His very essence, he is the Son of God, Light-from-Light: they are given a glimpse of eternity.
This tells us something about how God works: his action in the nature of things, creating, sustaining, renewing . He has raised Christ from the dead, and so we do not fall on our faces, overcome with fear: we know what the power of God can do and if we trust him, fix our gaze on the risen Christ and leave behind all the things that keep us from him, we will be transfigured and free—and Christ will be known. There will be no need for anyone to start building tents.