Transfigured for What? A Christian Perspective

Transfigured for What?  A Christian Perspective
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Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

The Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes is the Minister of Maple Grove United Church, and is a member of the Interfaith Councill of Halton. A chatty extrovert with a conversational preaching style, a multi-tasker who is a “multi-worrier” when it comes to caring about people’s problems, and a leader who treasures teaming with the lay people in her church, Morar says that at Maple Grove she has experienced “a deeper level of ministry than I thought possible.” Anyone who has personally received Morar’s deeply compassionate caring and wise counsel will testify to what an inspirational, healing and encouraging ministry it is.

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Celtic Christians have offered us the concept of ‘thin’ places, where the distance between heaven and earth seems literally ‘thin.’ We often refer to ‘mountain top’ experiences which are transforming – and sometimes they actually do happen on top of a mountain. But ‘transforming’ is sometimes too neutral a word; ‘transfiguring’ is more appropriate, for it means transforming into something more beautiful or elevated.

Peter, James and John go up a mountain with Jesus. Matthew 17.1-9
The disciples see the glory of God shining with a powerful, holy light in Jesus, brighter than the sun. They see Moses and Elijah glowing with Jesus.

What does it mean for the disciples and for us?

God had been present in Moses and Elijah, symbolic of the Law and the Prophets. This transfiguring moment shows how Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets. It’s all wrapped up in Jesus. How God was present in Moses and Elijah is the same as God’s presence is in Jesus.

The transfiguration marks the midpoint in a series of scenes that define who Jesus is.

Baptism, temptation, transfiguration, crucifixion, resurrection: these are all things that happen TO HIM

At both his baptism and transfiguration the heavenly voice announces that he is God’s son.

At his temptation, in Gethsemane, and at his crucifixion, Jesus wrestles with the humiliation, suffering, and abandonment that he, as Son of God, must endure. Finally the resurrected Jesus claims his identity, the identity God gave him at his baptism and transfiguration: this is my son in whom I am well pleased.

This pivotal moment on the mountain is presented as the point where human nature meets God: the meeting place for the temporal and the eternal, with Jesus himself as the connecting point, acting as the bridge between heaven and earth

Early church theologian Irenaeus was fascinated by the Transfiguration and wrote: “the glory of God is a live human being and a truly human life is the vision of God.”

The Transfiguration echoes the teaching by Jesus (as in Matthew 22:32) that God is not “the God of the dead, but of the living”. Although Moses had died and Elijah had been taken up to heaven centuries before (as in 2 Kings 2:11), they now live in the presence of the Son of God, implying that the same return to life can apply to all who face death and have faith. The transfiguration is the promise that Jesus lives still in the world and in us.

There are other transfiguring moments and people who have sought these moments throughout Christian history.

  • the ascetic experiences of the desert fathers,
  • meditation on icons, images of Jesus and other holy figures, used by the
  • eastern churches as an aid to worship
  • the imitation of Christ — imitating Christ’s ethics and spirituality

Moments of amazement and wonder — we have them. A couple came back from Morocco recently, where they spent time in the desert. He described walking out into the desert night and seeing the stars, infinite stars.

You may be able to think of moments when you too have been transfixed — often these are moments in nature.

Often people miss the meaning — ‘Oh I don’t need to go to church, I get my spiritual fix in nature.’

But people seeking these moments, don’t get that we are transfigured in order to see the divine in Jesus.

They don’t get that these transfiguring moments point to Jesus — the Jesus who lived and died and lives again in and through us.

For Christians, transfiguring moments point to Jesus, who in turn gives us a vision of God and God’s will for the world.

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