07 August 2023, The Tablet

Transfigured by glimpses of love and communion


Transfigured by glimpses of love and communion

The possibility, through grace, of sharing in the love, communion and glory that he enjoys eternally.
Wojciech Grabowski/SOPA Images/alamy

All three evangelists deliberately place the Transfiguration at the same point in the gospel narrative. It comes immediately before Jesus’ stark and, to pious Jewish ears, shocking statement that the Messiah, the liberator of God’s people, must undergo suffering and death at the hands of precisely those he has come to set free. The Father’s voice from within the cloud confirms what Jesus has taught them about his own suffering and death; and not only his, but that of his followers, who must be prepared to share his suffering and death, by taking up their (our) cross also and thereby attain glory. 

Neither the disciples, nor we, and certainly not ‘the world’, find it easy to accept that the path to glory takes us through suffering. This itself is unsurprising: on the face of it, such teaching seems to be located somewhere between stoicism and masochism. But Jesus doesn’t mean just any suffering; nor does he mean ‘glory’ in any conventional sense. 

The suffering that leads to glory is the suffering endured out of love, the suffering inextricably involved in all genuine love. And the glory to which he refers is not worldly glory but God’s own glory, the glory in whose image we are made, and which is manifested even now in the midst of life as we know and experience it, the messy, chaotic, stream of existence, in which we find ourselves at this very moment. Jesus became part of our untidy, flawed existence, even to the extent of becoming a victim in and of the kind of violent world we have created, apart from God. But, in that supremely free act of love, he not only reveals God’s glory, but becomes our way to glory.

What He offers us, therefore, is not some high-minded, morally tidy pattern to which we must conform our lives, but the possibility, through grace, of sharing in the love, communion and glory that he enjoys eternally with the Father and the Holy Spirit, a love and communion we glimpse even now in every transfiguring act and expression of selflessness. 

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