Transfiguration, not Transformation

Transfiguration does not mean the same thing as the word Transformation. Transformation implies a remaking of the nature of a person or object. Transfiguration implies a revelation of the true nature.

I’m making a visitation tonight at The Church of the Transfiguration in Cranston, and as I was preparing the sermon for tonight, I came across a sermon I wrote more than a decade ago on the Transfiguration. I don’t think the sermon is good enough to warrant posting the whole thing, but I rather like this little part from the introduction on the contrast between Transfiguration and Transformation:

Transfiguration does not mean the same thing as the word Transformation. Transformation implies a remaking of the nature of a person or object. Transfiguration implies a revelation of the true nature.

Jesus is not transformed on the Mount that day. He doesn’t go up the mountain like some sort of caterpillar, to wrap himself in a cocoon and emerge as a glorious butterfly, full of light and beauty. That is what happens at the Resurrection event, but not here, not today.

What happens here is that Jesus stands revealed. It is as if a mask is taken away from his face, and the disciples are granted a vision of who he really is, as God the Father sees him and loves him. I suppose that if you push me hard enough, I will admit that in my mind, Jesus’ human body contains the glory of the Godhead, and in the Transfiguration event, the disciples see through the husk of his body to the soul of his being and power. That statement by itself of course is in error, since it would deny the goodness and completeness of Jesus incarnation, but, since so little of what I am able to say about the details of the Incarnation isn’t ultimately in error, I hope you’ll let this one slide with just a minor remonstrance.

We are familiar with the same kinds of moments in our own lives, among the people we know and love. Have you ever seen the face of child transfigured with joy at some gift or unexpected event? It is as if you are peering into their very soul, through the layers of dirt and chocolate cake on their face, and seeing them as they truly are on the inside. Have you ever seen someone, beautiful to behold, so overcome with anger and frustration, that their face becomes transfigured as well? It is frightening sometimes to see how people really are on the inside when that happens, and it is certainly disillusioning as well.

The sermon goes on from there to talk about the irony that this day is also the anniversary of the destruction of the city of Hiroshima by our country dropping the first atomic bomb – and how that too is a form of transfiguration of our human nature.

Author: Nick Knisely

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...

2 thoughts on “Transfiguration, not Transformation”

  1. Hi Bishop, I just want to make sure I’m following you’re train of thought. if I am, then you are saying that we all have the capacity to be transfigured as either good or evil. It’s as if your sermon begs some questions: What will your fellow man see when you are transfigured before their eyes? Will they see the Godhead, or will they see something evil? It remindse of a C.S. Lewis quote.

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