Transfiguration Sunday

The Transfiguration by William Blake (1757-1827) — watercolor, England, late 18th century.

February 19, 2022 Lectionary Texts — Year A
Exodus 24:12-18 • Psalm 2 or Psalm 99 • 2 Peter 1:16-21 • Matthew 17:1-9

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Image description: A glowing white image of Christ stands at center wearing an almost translucent robe flowing down and over the heads of disciples Peter, James and John. Christ gestures gently with palms raised towards the viewer. His eyes are large and locks of his curly hair float up and outward like rays from his face. We see his bear feet and he looks to be stepping forward. Below Christ, the central disciple of whom we see only his reddish curly hair leans towards us with his head resting on his forearm. The disciples on either side gaze up at Jesus — their faces bear expressions of awe/fright. Kneeling to the left of Christ is Moses dressed in a similar transparent garment and curly floaty hair. His lengthy beard falls over his hands clasped in a gesture of prayer as he looks up to Jesus. The stone tables of the Law are seen beside him. At Jesus’ right kneels Elijah again dressed similar to Christ but with reddish curly hair and beard. He too gazes at Christ with hands in a prayer position. Flames of fire shoot from behind Elijah towards Christ. The upper left and right corners of the work are occupied by two faintly appearing golden winged creatures with wide eyes, wild hair and long beards.

Moses made his way up the mountain. A thick cloud blanketed the mountain because the Eternal’s glory had settled upon it. The cloud stayed there for six days; and when the seventh day arrived, the Eternal spoke to Moses from the cloud. For the Israelites below, the Eternal’s glory appeared to be a consuming fire on the top of the mountain. As Moses walked further toward the top, he was swallowed by the cloud of God’s glory… — Exodus 24:15-18

So leaders, kings, and judges, be wise, and be warned. There is only one God, the Eternal; worship Him with respect and awe; take delight in Him and tremble. — Psalm 2:10-11

The Eternal is the king ruling over all; let all people shake in fear. He sits on His throne, settled between winged guardians; let the planet tremble. Lift up the Eternal our God in your heart; bow down to the earth where He rests His feet. He is holy, perfect and exalted in His power. Lift up the Eternal our God in your hearts, and celebrate His goodness at His holy mountain, for the Eternal our God is holy, perfect and exalted in His power. — Psalm 99:1,5,9

You see, God the Father lavished honor and glory upon Jesus when the voice of the Majestic Glory echoed from heaven and said, “This is My beloved Son, and My favor rests on Him.” We witnessed this — we ourselves heard this voice from heaven — when we were with Jesus on that holy mountain. We have a fuller confirmation of the message of the prophets. You would do well to pay close attention to this word; it is like a light that shines for you in the darkness of night until the day dawns when the morning star rises in your own hearts. — 2 Peter 1:17-19

Six days later, Jesus went up to the top of a high mountain with Peter, James, and John. There, something spectacular happened: Jesus’ face began to glow and gleam and shine like the morning sun. His clothes gleamed too — bright white, like sunlight mirroring off a snowfall. He was, in a word, transfigured. Suddenly there at the top of the mountain were Moses and Elijah, those icons of the faith, beloved of God. And they talked to Jesus. — Matthew 17:1-3

While still dramatic, what I like about Blake’s Transfiguration would be the softness of it. There is a quite unity here especially between Moses, Elijah and Jesus. Note how their garments flow into one another is soft playful ripples. Note too the divide of darkness that separates the union of the three figures above from the three below — an apt visual for the misunderstanding and confusion experienced by the three disciples who are witnessing this.

I have always just assumed it was Moses and Elijah who appear to talk with Christ because of their closeness to God during their earthly lives. Who else had such an intimate relationship? Blake is giving us clues for another possible reason: these two individuals represent two fundamental ways of knowing God as revealed in the Old Testament — the Law and the Prophets (aka the Spirit). Jesus is the fulfillment and embodiment of both.

Lastly, I wish to share a lovely quote from Blake that has been associated with his Transfiguration piece and Christ’s glowing countenance.

We are put on earth a little space that we might learn to bear the beams of love. — William Blake

Practicing Visio Divina:

  1. View the artwork
    What do you see?

    Note shapes – color – style – movement
    What stands out for you?
    What are you curious about?
    What questions do you have?
    Hold back any feelings – judgments – opinions
  2. Read the accompanying scripture and look over the artwork again
    What connections do you make?

    Between the image and text?
    What is coming to mind from your own experience?
    What feelings are rising in you?
    Are you uncomfortable with something?
    There are no right or wrong answers
  3. Read the scripture again and explore the artwork a third time
    What do you hear?

    What is God saying to you?
    What do you wish to speak to God?
    What blessing or prayer is rising in you?

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