Above is the Canticle that we use for Vespers of the Transfiguration. It cleverly blends together a text from the New Testament and a text from the Old Testament. These texts are woven together seamlessly, with each shedding light on the other.
The composite text captures something of the feast of the Transfiguration. We move from the Incarnation to the God of all creation. It is almost as if we see one super-imposed upon the other. In the Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration there is a mingling of earth and heaven, old and new, prophet and disciple. God’s faithfulness runs as a thread through the Old Testament and here on Mt Tabor that faithfulness is manifested in the transfigured Christ.
That this powerful experience takes place on a mountain should perhaps come as no surprise to the disciples. Indeed, from the beginning of history human beings have been aware of what we can call the existence of a ‘spiritual landscape’. Most fundamentally, God is ‘up’ and the evil one is ‘down’. God or the gods live on mountains and the evil one lives somewhere down in the depths of the earth. Human beings have always sought ways of connecting with the deity, of being relationship with the deity. Our ancestors developed ritual behaviours which were designed either to appease the wrath of the deity or to procure favour. Certain places became significant as meeting places with the deity.
The account of the Transfiguration is a mysterious text and one that isn’t always easy to understand. The words of the Canticle ‘Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion’ resonate with me particularly on this feast. When we celebrate the liturgy and hear the Gospel text we are given a glimpse of glory. And like the disciples, we too must come down from the mountain. Our task now is to look for those glimpses of glory wherever we are. And the more ordinary the place we find ourselves in the better.
Poet, Malcolm Guite, captures the mystery at the heart of the feast.
For that one moment, ‘in and out of time’,
On that one mountain where all moments meet,
The daily veil that covers the sublime
In darkling glass fell dazzled at his feet.
There were no angels full of eyes and wings
Just living glory full of truth and grace.
The Love that dances at the heart of things
Shone out upon us from a human face
And to that light the light in us leaped up,
We felt it quicken somewhere deep within,
A sudden blaze of long-extinguished hope
Trembled and tingled through the tender skin.
Nor can this this blackened sky, this darkened scar
Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are.