Friday, 8 February 2008


Luke 9, 28 - 36
‘As he prayed, the aspect of his face was changed and his clothing became brilliant as lightning.’

When my youngest sister was a little girl, she had a remarkable gift for making faces. She could make our old parish priest laugh by the extraordinary faces she made when we went up to the altar rails. The older members of our family did not approve of this talent. I remember we were both often told that we should not make faces, because the wind might change and then we would get stuck like that.
As we get older, we put less energy into making faces and more into making up our faces. Few are satisfied, it seems, with what they look like. Those who are, are perhaps very beautiful or, more likely, very holy. At any rate there is an immense amount of money being made from what is called ‘make-up’, from our desire to put on a good face. I discovered recently that our very word ‘face’ comes from the Latin ‘facere’ – ‘to make’. All this artifice makes it hard for us to know what we really look like. We mostly see our own faces in the mirror or in photographs. If you clean away the condensation from the bathroom mirror covering the area of your face, it is surprising how small an area of glass is exposed. Picasso has reminded us that if we truly resembled photographs, we would be very small and very flat. Do we have any idea of what we really look like?
Our fear is that we are each of us ugly. It is that ugliness that we work hard to disguise. Today’s gospel, the gospel of the transfiguration, tells how Peter, James and John saw the real face of Jesus. They had to be prepared for this revelation. Jesus took them up the mountain to pray. What happens there is a programme for our keeping of Lent.
First we need to go away somewhere special to pray in the presence of Jesus. As we look at him, the aspect of his face changes and his clothing becomes brilliant as lightning. The unhidden appearance of Jesus is not ugly, but it is changed from the faces we normally see. That is frightening. We should remember that God has not made us ugly either; but we are frightened to become what he has made us to be. We see Jesus with Moses and Elijah, who are also in glory. These two great prophets are guides and leaders on the journeying of God’s people. They point us away from idolatry, from the power and pleasure we try to make for ourselves, from our face-making projects, to the reality of God. This is a hard journey that we are reluctant to go on, and we will have to struggle with the temptation to fall asleep instead. This is the addict’s familiar escape from the pain of transformation. We hear them speaking to Jesus of his passing which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem. It is difficult to behold our own glory in Jesus; it is even more difficult to accept that we must stay with him during the passing he will have to make from our life to God’s life in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus himself had to struggle to accept the cross.
‘Master, it is wonderful for us to be here.’ When we are bathed in light, that is where we long to stay, but we remember in Lent that we have to make our journey with Jesus. God is revealed to us both in the light and in the cloud, just as he accompanied Israel in the wilderness as a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. The shadow and the cloud of God are frightening, but in the cloud Peter, James and John go beyond their meeting with Moses and Elijah to hear the voice of God himself. God is not frightening because he tells the disciples of their ugliness. That is a story we tell each other and ourselves. Nor is God concerned with our projects of self-creation. God says, ‘This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.’
And that is our programme for Lent. ‘The disciples kept silence and, at that time, told no-one what they had seen.’ Easter will be the time to tell what we have seen. Now, in Lent, we should keep silence. We lay aside our projects and plans, which put us in the place of God, and attend to Jesus, God’s chosen Son, with our eyes and our ears. Jesus’ face is the face of God’s Son. Now is the time to allow Jesus to begin to ‘transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body. He will do that by the same power with which he can subdue the whole universe.’ During Lent we have the chance to discover, with Peter, James and John, that the transfigured face of the Son of Man is glorious and strange, but it is also our true face. In Christ we become the imago Dei, the face of God.

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