Shared glory, shared hearts Luke 9.28-36
Peter, James and John get a glimpse of heaven
The clue is in the 'About 8 days later'. The 8th day is the first day of the new week - the first day of the new creation. If the old creation began on Sunday and Saturday is the 7th day on which God rested, then the Sunday after the Sabbath is the 8th day and the day of the new act of creation.
And there are two things that I would like to draw out from this glimpse of heaven
1. It is about shared glory
We share in the glory of Jesus.
He is shown to be the Son of God. He is the creator and sustainer of the universe. All light and all colours radiate from him. When you refract white light, you see all the colours of the spectrum. Jesus contains it all.
In icons of the transfiguration, Jesus is the source of light, and everyone and everything is lit up by that light.
And here, Moses and Elijah share in that glory: ‘They appeared in glory’
This is a glory which transcends space, time and death. Moses lived 2000 years before Jesus. Elijah about 700 years - and yet here are both of them speaking with him.
Our reading from 2 Corinthians 3 speaks of how, when we look at the glory of the Lord, the glory of Jesus, we will be transformed - and we will begin to reflect, to shine with that glory.
And John also writes about that. He says, ‘When he (that is Jesus) is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is’. (1 John 3.2)
It makes sense. You become like that which you look at.
Remember that when you go onto the internet. Remember that when you are watching Netflix or Television. We become like that which we watch.
And so if you look at, if you focus on, sheer love and beauty and truth - you will change, and you will begin to become love and truth and beauty.
So we are given here a glimpse of heaven. We see the glory of Jesus and we share the glory of Jesus
2. It is about a shared heart
There are two sets of relationships that we see in the transfiguration.
There is Jesus’ relationship with the Father.
Jesus is praying. He is pouring out his heart to his Father. And the Father speaks, and shares his heart, his pride, his joy: ‘This is my son, my chosen one’.
And there is Jesus’ relationship with Moses and Elijah.
They appear with Jesus and they are talking with him. They are not talking about the weather or about what a lovely spot this is (although they may be!). But we are told that they are talking with Jesus about the one thing that must have weighed so heavily on the heart of Jesus.
And what would that have been?
What is facing Jesus in Jerusalem?
His arrest, his trial, and his execution.
Jesus knew what he had to do, and it must have overwhelmed him.
So as he meets with Moses and Elijah, he shares with them the thing that most concerns him.
They speak together about Jesus’ ‘departure’, the Greek word is ‘Exodus’, that departure that he will accomplish at Jerusalem. They speak about his death.
Heaven is a place where we are in deep communion, and we share our hearts. The Russian word ‘душа’ is probably better, but we don’t have an exact equivalent in English. We speak about having a heart-to-heart, where we share our inner most longings, fears, delights and desires. We share our inner being.
So how should we respond to this glimpse of heaven?
Does it mean that if I have not had such a vision then I am not a Christian?
Far from it.
I note that of the 12, Jesus’ innermost circle, only 3 of them saw this.
And whilst we can pray and long for such visions or experiences, for what some call the ‘Beatific vision’, the fact that we have had not had such an experience does not mean that we do not belong to God.
And often, when or if they do come, they come when we least expect them: in a dream, an unexpected healing or miracle, a sudden revelation when we get it, or in an encounter with someone.
And what we do know is that even if we have never had such an experience or encounter with God this side of death, we will see him there face to face.
So how should we respond?
Again, we are told how not to respond!
Peter has this experience, encounter and is overwhelmed. He responds by trying to capture it, by doing something religious.
When he speaks of dwellings, the word he uses is significant. It was a specific type of dwelling used in one of the Jewish festivals.
So he sees Jesus with these great figures from the Old Testament, and he thinks, this is amazing and I want to keep this and I need to do something religious.
But we are told that he is not really thinking straight.
There are times when heaven breaks into earth. But we can’t catch heaven and bring it down to earth. If anything, heaven wants to catch us and lift us up to heaven.
So how are we to respond?
The voice from heaven tells us: ‘This is my Son, my Chosen: listen to him’.
Listen to him!
That is really significant.
Who has Jesus appeared with?
Moses - the great giver of the law; Elijah - the representative of the prophets.
God has spoken to his people through them in the past, and people listened to their words. They went into the synagogues to listen to Moses and Elijah, the law and prophets, being read.
But the cloud comes - representing the glory of God - and Moses and Elijah disappear, and the only one left is Jesus. And the voice from heaven says, ‘Listen to him’!
And this is the key to all of this.
When we realise that Moses and Elijah, the Old Testament, is always speaking about the coming of Jesus; when we hear and receive the gospels and the rest of the New Testament, we are listening to God.
We hear him share his heart with us.
He speaks of the Father’s deep deep love for his Son
He speaks of what he delights in: of all that is good and right and beautiful and true.
Why does God give such detailed instructions for his temple in the Old Testament? Because he wants it to be beautiful!
He speaks of his deep desire for this creation, of his grief and anger at how we have walked away from him, turned our backs on him, and at what we have done with it and how we treat each other - and yet he also speaks of his continued love for us
He speaks of the great cost of that love to him, of what he is prepared to do, the lengths he will go to, in order to bring us into communion with him.
And his word comes into you, and he speaks of his love for you, his delight in you
How do I know if someone is a Christian?
It is not that they have had an experience of God.
It is not that they are religious, building ‘dwellings’ here and there
Rather it is that they have a love for God’s word.
If I love God, then I will love what God says. I will long to hear every word that God speaks.
It doesn’t mean that I need to enjoy reading. I may not (although I have heard of people who have learnt to read in order to read the bible).
But I will want to get as much of the word of God as I can. I will want to listen to it, to understand it. And I will want to fill my mind and come into my heart. I will want to know the innermost secrets of the heart of God. I will want to begin to think like God, to love like God.
And it is as we listen to Jesus Christ, the Chosen one, the Son of God, thay we will begin to share his heart.
And as we begin to share his heart, so we will begin to share his glory.
Even if we never have a transfiguration experience of God here and now, we will see men and women who reflect that glory now.
I think of Stephen in the bible. He was on trial for his life, and as he speaks of Jesus we are told that his face shone like the face of an angel.
I think of a former police officer. She responded to an alarm call from a local bank in Nottingham. She walked into the bank, and was hit over the head. When I met her she had been paralysed from the neck down for 8 years – I went with the bible study group that I was part of to sing carols for her as she lay in bed. And as she looked at us, her face simply shone.
I think of Father Kirill, the father confessor of the St Petersburg Spiritual Academy. I never spoke with him. But I heard his story. He served 30 years in total, sentenced to hard labour for 10 years on 3 different occasions, because of his faith in Christ. And his face shone.
Or I think of Lucy, a member of my previous congregation. She had a very precious Christian faith. She was dying and for the last two weeks of her life she was in dreadful pain. And yet when I saw her a few minutes after she died, her face was not just at peace - that often happens as the muscles relax – but her face was radiant. It was as if she had seen a glimpse of glory.
How should we respond to this glimpse of heaven: this glimpse of shared glory and of shared hearts?
‘This is my Son, the Chosen, listen to him!’