Tuesday, October 13, 2009

So what does the transfiguration do to Jesus?: updated

Updated: For those interested, the eventual sermon, plus some of the worship, is here.

Classical Christianity affirms Jesus as fully human and fully divine. So what do we do with the Transfiguration – you know, the bit where Jesus clothes goes all dazzling white: “whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them” (according to Mark 9:3)? What’s that all about?

Is this the real Jesus? Or is this him pulling back his fully human flesh to let the real power show? Well if so, then isn’t he sort of faking it, being less than divine, the rest of the time?

One theory is to suggest that the disciples are hallucinating. But the fact that the story appears in three of the Gospels, and is so grounded in time and place “after six days” (Mark 9) suggests a historical reality.

Another theory is just to theologise it: Spirit here is same Spirit as at the angelic announcement of birth to Mary, as at baptism, and so we have theology of Spirit on bodies. But that still leaves the who is the real Jesus question open.

Updated: In the text, we see that (unlike the chorus) the flesh life of Jesus does not melt away. Jesus remains in bodily form, flesh, blood. Yet this bodily form is enlightened, enlivened, “whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.”

Is this a window into what it means to be fully human: we remain in our bodies, yet our bodies are enlivened by God? If so, this says something vital about the importance of the human body in Christian spirituality. It is important, essential. Our senses remain, to be enlivened by God’s light. Bodies, ours and Jesus, are indeed a temple of the Spirit.

Posted by steve at 09:13 PM


  1. I’ve always believed it to be a mini-Resurrection moment for the Disciples.

    A moment like we all have from time to time…Be it good news at the doctor’s visit when you’re expecting the worst, or the moment when Grace digs deep and puts roots in your heart, or that moment in worship when you feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. Mini-Resurrections sustaining us and bringing us along in preparation for the Great Resurrection to come.

    Comment by Mark — October 14, 2009 @ 3:38 am

  2. I’d say, Jesus is always the same, but the disciples are having a mountaintop experience. Their perception changes, their spiritual eyes are opened, they see Him as He really is, they know Him.

    Comment by Ingrid — October 14, 2009 @ 10:55 am

  3. Steve, some quick thoughts. The voice from heaven (9:7) gives Peter, James & John a prompt to listen to Jesus. The next pericope is Jesus telling them to keep it to themselves until they grasp the whole story – ‘after the son of Man rises from the dead'(9:9). Perhaps, rather than the transfiguration being a glimpse of the real Jesus, the real jesus is the one who lives, suffers, dies and is raised from death. The transfiguration is a partial glimpse but not the full picture. The docetic temptations that arise from viewing the transfiguration as the true Jesus are counter balanced by Mark prompting the reader to travel to the cross and thereby reasserting that the ‘whole’ Jesus (human/divine – though I don’t like that dichotomy) is the true Jesus – the one who suffers, bleeds, dies & is raised from death. The risen crucified Jesus is, therefore, encountered in the struggles, pain and flesh and blood realities of our own stories, not as divine verses human, but in all that is human includes within it all that is divine.


    Comment by Chris McLeod — October 14, 2009 @ 11:57 am

  4. Taking up what Chris McLeod said, I could qualify: “They see Him as He ‘really’is”, in His divine state, not just human. (I’m a bit scared to say anything about that term “fully human”, and I don’t know much, or better, next to nothing about DNA, but ??? One could think about that question. Not sure, we can get definite answers, or even if we need to.

    Comment by Ingrid — October 14, 2009 @ 1:40 pm

  5. I really love theological words like “transfiguration”. Other favourites of mine are “incarnation”, “ascension”, “kenosis”, “perichoresis” and “total depravity”. And don’t get me started on “reconciliation”! Precious gifts from past generations. Thanks for keeping them alive, healthy and growing, Steve.

    Comment by andrew dutney — October 15, 2009 @ 9:03 am

  6. thanks to all those who commented. you all helped me. if you’re interested, the sermon is here, along with some other reflections on the worship



    Comment by steve — October 19, 2009 @ 2:36 pm

  7. Steve, I like where you are going with these thoughts. I think I was trying to say similar things – Jesus’ humanity, and ours, doesn’t leave the divine behind. Good sermon!


    Comment by Chris McLeod — October 19, 2009 @ 3:33 pm

  8. thanks Chris. you’re a sweetie. i liked what you said and certainly if i’d be preaching it in lent, as it usually is encountered, i might have pushed the perspective you were offering, in terms of travelling to the cross. (we are doing a series on Mark, passage by passage).

    but that ran the risk, outside Lent, of it becoming a sermon about the cross ie the whole of Mark and not just this bit. so instead, the idea of introductions seemed to work well in terms of allowing me to use art, to be a bit theological, and yet the passage stand alone.


    Comment by steve — October 19, 2009 @ 8:26 pm

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