“God can be God even in the very heart of human terror”

Transfiguration (2015_02_19 22_01_22 UTC)

“The whole history of God’s dealings with his people is involved in this: Moses and Elijah are also driven towards us by the same energy.  But Jesus alone stands in the very heart of it, it flows through him and from him.  It is the light that comes from him that is reflected on the robes of his companions.  They lived hundreds of years before him, yet what makes them radiant, what makes them agents of God, is the light coming from Jesus, so that this icon—like the story it illustrates—confuses our ordinary sense of time.  In the Gospels, the transfiguration story is introduced with the apparently innocent words, ‘after six days’ (in Matthew and Mark), or “after about eight days’ (in Luke).  From early times, commentators have said that this is an allusion to the days of creation: the transfiguration is the climax of the creative work of God, either the entrance into the joy and repose of the seventh day or the beginning of the new creation, the eighth day, depending on what kind of symbolism you want to use. In Jesus, the world of ordinary prosaic time is not destroyed, but it is broken up and reconnected, it works no longer just in straight lines but in layers and spirals of meaning.  We begin to understand how our lives, like those of Moses and Elijah, may have meanings we can’t know of in this present moment: the real depth and significance of what we say or do now won’t appear until more of the light of Christ has been seen.  And so what we think is crucially important may not be so; what we think insignificant may be what really changes us for good or evil.  Christ’s light alone will make the final pattern coherent, for each one of us as for all human history.  And that light shines on the far side of the world’s limits, the dawn of the eighth day.  When Jesus is transfigured, it is as if there is a brief glimpse of the end of all things—the world aflame with God’s light.

“In the strength of that glimpse, things become possible.  We can confront today’s business with new thoughts and feelings, reflect on our sufferings and our failures with some degree of hope—not with a nice and easy message of consolation but with the knowledge that there is a depth to the world’s reality and out of that comes the light which will somehow connect, around and in Jesus Christ, all the complex, painful, shapeless experience of human beings.  The Orthodox hymns for the feast of the Transfiguration make the point often made the Orthodox theologians: Peter, James, and John are allowed to see Christ’s glory so that when they witness his anguish and death they may know that these terrible moments are freely embraced by the God-made-human who is Jesus, and held within the infinite depth of life.  It is surely not an accident that it is Peter and James and John who are also with Jesus in Gethsemane: the extreme mental and spiritual agony that appears there is the test of what has been seen in the transfiguration.  We are shown that God can be God even in the very heart of human terror: the life of Jesus is still carried along by the tidal wave of that which the dark background of blowing blues and reds in the icon depicts, the life of God.” (Rowan Williams)

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