In 1934 an American romantic comedy called Carolina was released. Based on the play, The House of Connelly, by Paul Green, the film starred Janet Gaynor, Lionel Barrymore, and Robert Young in a romanticised story about a post-Civil War family in the fading South. They regain their former life and prestige when a poor Northern girl appears among them, eventually charming, not just the young son of the house, but even his obdurate mother. The advertising summed up the poor Northern girl well: ‘bursting into our lives and world – like a flash of sunlight - upsetting traditions, injecting life where there was laziness, love where there was fear and hate.’ What an impact, eh? Much as we might sum up the impact, only more so, of Jesus whom we call the Christ: ‘bursting into our lives and world – like a flash of sunlight - upsetting traditions, injecting life where there was laziness, love where there was fear and hate.’ In many ways this is summed up in our Gospel reading this morning: which, if not a feature film, is a luminous, multi-splendoured picture, or living icon, of the love of God – a Northern Jewish boy lit up with God, lighting up our way to God, and making of us shared lights of God’s glory…
Our Gospel reading today helps us mark what our Christian tradition calls the Transfiguration. This is a fitting climax to the Epiphany: the church season we have been travelling through since Christmas. For Epiphany is a great Christian season of light. It begins with the story of the Baptism of Jesus: what some have called the ‘Great Epiphany’ or revelation of God’s light at the beginning of Jesus’ and all our Christian lives. Transfiguration complements this and rounds it off: being what some have called the “Small Epiphany’, revealing what is the ultimate purpose, or end of our Christian lives – sharing in the glory of God’s very own light. As we prepare to begin Lent, 40 days journeying through darkness to the greatest light of all, Easter, so we are given a vision of this ultimate purpose and goal of our lives...
First, and foremost then, as a wonderful Epiphany, or revelation of God, today’s Gospel text is intended to show Jesus off for what he was: the supreme image of God in created, human, form. Jesus, we are being told in this passage – Jesus as the bearer of the Christ, the Word and Second Person of the Trinity - Jesus is the preeminent means for us to see and experience God. The Taizé Community, in their special Letter, running up to their 75th anniversary this year, puts it like this:
‘Like the sun, God is too dazzling for us to look at. But Jesus allows God’s light to shine through. The whole Bible leads us to this trust: the absolutely transcendent God enters into our human reality and speaks to us in an understandable language.
What is distinctive about the Christian Faith? The person Jesus, and a living relationship with him. We will never have finished comprehending this… What is and will always remain utterly and surprisingly new is that Jesus communicated God’s light through a simple life. The divine life made him still more human. By expressing himself fully in the simplicity of a human life, God renewed his trust in human beings; he enabled us to believe in humankind.’
Firstly then, the Transfiguration shows us Jesus Christ as a flash of sunlight: the light of the Son of God. This revelation on the mountain however is not for its own sake, but for the clear purpose of drawing us closer into relationship with God. In other words, we too are to enter into this same light. Again, the Taizé Community puts it well, in its call to the people of the world:
We are all pilgrims, seekers after truth. Believing in Christ does not mean possessing truth, but letting him, who is truth, take hold of us, and heading towards its full revelation. Ever since then we can no longer despair either of the world or of ourselves…
The centre of our faith is the Risen Christ, present in our midst, who has a personal bond of love with each person. Turning our eyes towards him awakens wonder and a deeper understanding of our existence.’
The purpose of Jesus is thus to bring us into intimacy with God: into that same light of Christ in which all things are created; that same light of Christ which enlightens all things; that same light which is our beginning and our end. For like Jesus himself, our humanity is intended to become divine humanity. This is the deep mystery of God into which we are invited, just as those first disciples were invited by Jesus to climb the mountain, experience and share in that light.
Firstly, our Gospel is saying, look at Jesus to see the true light, to see God. All we need to know about God we can see in Jesus. Secondly, this light is for each of us. We also are invited to share in the light of Christ, and become children of that same light. And, thirdly, as a consequence, we too may therefore share the light for others. For Jesus may be the supreme flash of sunlight. Yet we are called to be flashes of sunlight too. As a Church, we are called to share the good news of Jesus Christ and make it luminous. As the Taizé Community puts it:
‘When tirelessly the Church listens, heals and reconciles, it becomes what it is at its most luminous – a communion of love, of compassion, of consolation, a limpid reflection of the Risen Christ. Never distant, never on the defensive, freed from all forms of severity, the Church can let the humble trusting of faith shine right into our human hearts.’
So, as we come to the end of this Epiphany season, may we see that light of God in Jesus Christ, may we enter more deeply into that light, and may we be lights shining for others, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.