Transfiguration Sunday in Year B

God brings Glory to what God has Made!

                                                        by Robert Saler        


Readings for Transfiguration Sunday in Year B:

2 Kings 2:1-14

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

Mark 9:2-10

We live in a post-Enlightenment time in which many of us (at least in the so-called “developed” West) have undergone what the sociologist Max Weber refers to as the “disenchantment” of the world. Where earlier generations looked at creation and saw unexplainable phenomena everywhere, we tend to be influenced by science to regard our world as eminently explainable.  

Notwithstanding the undeniable gains that Enlightenment rationality has brought to the world, it also seems clear that this "disenchantment" has had deletorious consequences for our environment. John Locke and other modern philosophers would often refer to nature as a kind of machine given by God for exclusively human benefit. When we lose a sense of wonder, a sense of enchantment at the possibilities present in material creation, it becomes easier to exploit that creation. 

However, the Christian tradition pushes back against such reductionist views of nature and the material. John Calvin saw nature as "the theater of God's glory." Luther, drawing upon the Eucharist, described Christ being bodily present throughout creation. Because we worship a God that took on the material (incarnation), we Christians have within our gospel formation the potential to appreciate the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins called the "dearest freshness deep down things."  

The Transfiguration is one of the moments in scripture, and in the Church's liturgical calendar, where God's numinous celebration of material creation is brought to the foreground of our spiritual consciousness. Note that the transfiguration in Mark's gospel does not describe the spiritual replacing the material, or the light replacing flesh (as so many early Christian heresies wished to viewed Jesus). Rather, the flesh itself is transfigured in order to make manifest the presence of the holy WITHIN the material.  

Paul, then, in his theology, regards such a celebration of our creation as a kind of arc that begins with Jesus but culminates in the redemption of all things, all creation. Just as we see "the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ," throughout his letters Paul encourages believers to keep the hope alive that we who follow in the path of Christ's life and death will have our own bodies similarly glorified when the fullness of God's new creation is made manifest in our world. We who follow Christ will share in the glory of Christ, and the glory of the new Jerusalem on Earth! 

However, confidence that God is in the process of glorifying the world does not give us an excuse to be complacent in the face of threats to creation's health. One of the most striking things about the ascent of Elijah in the reading from 2 Kings is that, once the prophet has ascended, his disciple (Elisha) is left to carry on his work. Similarly, following the numinous intensity of the mountaintop experience, Jesus and his disciples descend down the mountain in order to carry on Jesus' long, hard road of redemption. While we are invited to revel spiritually this Sunday in the glory of God made manifest in God's beloved creation, we are also challenged to continue the work of being God's hands in conserving the health of that very creation. This is what it means to be in the company of Jesus.
We moderns are too tempted to allow nature to be "disenchanted."
The Transfiguration reveals the way in which God's holy presence glorifies the material creation.
The very material of our selves is on the same path of glorification, in and through Christ.
We are called to revel in this manifestation of the holy, but also to come "down from the mountain" in order to continue the work of ministry.