KAUWHAU at TE POU HERENGA WAKA O TE WHAKAPONO
TE WHAKAAHUAKĒTANGA o te TAMA AROHA
(Feast of the Transfiguration)
(August 6th) 2017
Daniel 7.9-10, 13-14
2 Peter 1.16-19
Luke 9: 28b-36
This week on a friend posted a link on Facebook that caught my eye. The link focussed on the German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who attempted to topple Hitler. Bonhoeffer maintained that when the church stops talking about Jesus, it has nothing to say.
It is the Feast of the Transfiguration. In the Orthodox church this is the great feast of the year, for this is the feast on which the light of God shines through the flesh of Jesus and we are enabled to see the face of God in the face of Jesus, something the Hebrews could never do. The divine light shines in and through the flesh of the Incarnation, arreuria!
The centrality of Jesus is not-negotiable. We take a risk when we speak of Jesus. We will recreate Jesus to some extent, remake him in the image that we want him to have. That’s only natural, and we’re allowed to be human. But we must always ensure that our presentation of Jesus is not contradicted by the scriptures.
That’s one reason why the mystical language of the Orthodox is so valuable. The scriptures are the first place where we encounter him, divine light pouring from him. We must not remake Jesus in our own image. The experience of the scriptural authors was that his light, divine light will always be shining with us on our journey, even our journey through death. Divine light, light of lights, for us and with us!
If I claim to speak on behalf of the Church, the Body of Christ, but do not refer to Jesus, then I am mocking Christianity. Jesus is God’s self-revelation, and I blot the Jesus story out at the expense of white-washing faith itself, making faith meaningless. If I speak about social justice, but do not claim the authority and compassion of Jesus the Just, or if I speak of justice for the earth, for what I will happily call Papatūānuku and her children, but do not cite the compassion of Jesus who has loved creation from its beginning, then I am no more than a political party and I am only pretending to be at prayer or ‘at faith.’
I don’t always get this right, don’t always practice what I preach. But when we begin to look and sound more like a political party or a service club than the Body of Christ, then we are seriously losing our way, blackening the divine light. And we are, across the Church.
But what of the Transfigured Christ?
The language of Transfiguration is strange: Jesus becomes too powerfully vivid for our eyes to cope, converses with ancestors in faith, and hears, with his companions, the voice of God. This is no normal event. Should we dump it, then?
But why should our language about the Messiah of God be merely normal? When we describe the pinnacle experiences of our lives we break our of the ordinary. We struggle to find words. If I speak of my wedding day (or night!) or the day a group of our completed the Milford Track in atrocious conditions or the day I climbed Table Mountain or my feelings at a Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen concert or when watching a sunset, then I have no words.
Whatever happened in the lives of Peter, John, and James, it was not able to be communicated in common or garden words. In fact they failed to get a grasp of the events at all until much later, and were prepared to admit that (or we wouldn’t have the story). But we should not avoid building it into our story of Jesus. The disciples glanced something beyond words. But later, after the even greater resurrection event, they began to get it. When they saw this moment of light in the light of the even greater light of the resurrection, they began to understand. Make sense of that! Some experience that they could not explain or even convey clearly, filled them with awe, and they told the tale. Still though they had no words, and nor did Luke, or Peter, who told the tale years later. The biblical writers could not always or indeed often convey the awe and strangeness of God. Nor can we. But they and we could live it.
In this scientific world we must never be afraid of that which is mystery. Language of the weird and wonderful, which we often only turn to in books and movies, should be a part of our language of faith, must be a part of our language of faith, unless we’re going to be mere drivellers. We drag God down to merely human drivel at peril. We reduce faith to a political or sociological programme at peril. We trim the unknowable, the eternal, the mystical, the divine out of our language and our discourse at peril. When we do that we become mere bessa blocks, mere concrete blocks instead of the beautiful ornate whakairo, carvings that reveal mystery, that the Creator designed us to be.
The Transfiguration challenges us to lift our eyes above the gutter. The great biblical stories challenge us to move from prose to poetry, from talk to waiata, and then to turn with renewed wairua to the issues that we face from day to day. As we are renewed we know that we are not addressing life merely in our own limited strength. We can face issues of injustice, suffering, despair, loneliness, innumerable things that weigh us down and cripple our family, friends, our wider society. Some of us are called to address these big issues – from homelessness to income disparity to the big questions of global warming and international affairs. Some of us are simply called to share aroha and tūmanako (hope) with those we meet on the smaller stages of life. Either way it’s okay. But we are called to do so with our hearts warmed by the ever present, risen, ascended and in all ways transfigured Christ, who is always with us. Then, when it all gets too much we are called to step back, renew our lives in prayer, fellowship and worship, be refilled with the transfiguring Wairua (Spirit) of Christ who so enflamed the earliest Christians, and who himself went up the maunga to pray and be renewed (with remarkable effect on those he shared the experience with).
And in all this the centrality of Jesus is not negotiable. The one who is known to us in the bread and the wine, known to us in the warmth of fellowship, known to us in the power of karakia (prayer) and himene (hymns), who will take us on into the impossible eternities of God, glimpsed in the words and visions of the Mount of Transfiguration.