In the account of Jesus’ “transfiguration,” we are told that the “appearance of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white” (Luke 9:29). While one might wonder about the significance of this is, the comments that come after shed some light, so to speak. “And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:30-31, NRSV). The reader is then told that when Peter, James and John awoke “they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.” Clearly, then, the significance of Jesus’ altered countenance and dazzling white raiment is that he—along with Moses and Elijah— appear “in glory,” although only of Jesus is it said to be his glory.
In the Old Testament, God’s glory is used to designate the manifestation of God’s “God-ness” to humans: Moses doesn’t see God but God’s glory. It is God’s glory that descends on the tabernacle in the wilderness, and in Isaiah 6, the prophet says that God’s glory fills the temple. But why do the disciples see Jesus in his glory before his crucifixion, and why do Moses and Elijah speak “of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem”? The story gives us a sense of the collapsing of time, or rather, the timelessness of God’s time. The three disciples witness the glory of Christ, “eternally begotten of the Father,” temporally speaking, before they enter Jerusalem with him and witness his passion. Later, in the book of Acts his witnesses will describe Christ as being exalted, and as standing at the right hand of God (Acts 5:31; 7:55, 56).
What I would like to focus on here is this in-breaking of divine realities into our limited temporal perspective. Just as the disciples witness Christ’s glory before the story of his passion and resurrection play out, in a similar way, the Kingdom of God sprouts in quiet ways all around us, even before the fullness of that Kingdom unfolds. It seems significant here that disciples are said to witness Christ’s glory when they awoke, having been in a heavy sleep. We move about our lives in a kind of spiritual heavy sleep, unaware of the glory of Christ in our midst and of the Kingdom of God that is in some sense, already in our midst. As we move into Lent, may we ask that in our time of repentance and preparation God wake us from our heavy sleep, opening our eyes to the glorified one in our midst, to the Kingdom that Christ has gained for us. May we be able to sing, like the folk artist Peter Mayer, “Used to be a world half there—second rate hand-me-down; now I walk it with a different air—everything is holy now”
Peter Mayer, “Holy Now”