Light and Glory



“Light and Glory” by Rosanna McFadden

Good morning!  It is the third Sunday of Lent and we are continuing to talk about the identity of Christ: who had said he was, who the Bible said he was, and who we think he is.  There are many names for Jesus in the Bible: Messiah, which comes from the Hebrew, and means Anointed One: Savior, or Chosen One.  The Old Testament prophesies about the coming messiah, who is named as Wonderful Counselor, and Prince of Peace, among others.  The Greek word for Messiah is Christ, so the man named Jesus, or Jeshua, is also the Christ, the Messiah.  I cannot snap off all the scripture references, but I can think of many names for Jesus — I bet you can, too. 

Think of songs or hymns which remind us of the names of Jesus:

Jesus, name above all names Beautiful Savior, Glorious Lord

Emmanuel, God is with us Blessed Redeemer, Living Word

Or how about

He’s the lily of the valley, he’s the bright and morning star

He’s the fairest of ten thousand; everybody ought to know.

I bet you can think of others, such as All Hail the Power of Jesus Name.  If you spend the rest of this sermon thinking about songs about Jesus, that would be a profitable use of this time.

The text from Luke 9 which Karen read for us is an account which is also found in Matthew 17 and Mark 9.  Matthew and Mark’s account use the word “transfigured” to describe how Jesus’ appearance changed.  Even though Luke’s gospel doesn’t use the verb transfigured, it describes similar changes in appearance — Jesus’ face shone and his clothes became dazzling white.  Dazzling is a wonderful word: all three gospels use it, and it gives us an image of Jesus: an image of light and glory.  Light and glory are ideas we have encountered before: John describes Jesus as the light of the world, and that we have seen his glory, the glory as of the father’s only son (John 1:14).

Light turns out to be a fairly complicated image, because light reveals things, but it can also obscure things: when we look directly into a bright source of light, it is blinding.  The account of the transfiguration of Christ uses light in both these ways.  I want to illustrate this with a symbol which I hope is familiar to you: a Celtic cross.  I hope it’s familiar because we handed out paper versions of the Celtic cross last week — there are still a few on the ushers’ table if you want to pick one up after the service today.  Here’s a reminder of what I’ll be talking about Cross with sun. [Slide]

In its simplest form, a Celtic cross is a cross with a circle centered on the intersection of the cross-pieces.  It originated very early in the Christian mission to Ireland, perhaps as early as St. Patrick, and spread across Ireland and Gaelic Scotland, and is a symbol of Celtic Christianity.  I have been, and will be, using this cross as a symbol of our Sabbath Rest time — my travels and your studies.  No one can say for certain what the original intent of this form of the cross was, but it is generally accepted that the circle represents the sun; the cross is, of course, a symbol of Jesus and his crucifixion as our Savior.  These crosses were often carved out of stone and free-standing, like the one shown here, so the circle may have had a practical function as extra support for the horizontal arms.  But the idea of the cross of Jesus emerging from the sun, or the light of creation has some powerful theological implications.  [Slide Down]

J. Philip Newell has been a source of inspiration for me in considering the identity of Christ, and what that means for human identity generally.  Fundamental to that understanding is humanity’s connection to Creation, and the meaning of the work of Christ on the cross.  I’m going to share liberally from his book Christ of the Celts: The Healing of Creation, and that is a book I would recommend to anyone.

Christ is often referred to in the Celtic tradition as the truly natural one . . . he comes to restore us to the original root of our being . . . Grace is given not to lead us into another identity, but to reconnect us to the beauty of our deepest identity.[1]

The light of transfiguration reveals the true identity of Christ:  fully human, but filled with the glory of God.  Christ carries the divine image of God which was created in each person, but in Christ, that light has never been dimmed or obscured by sin. The shadow of sin has fallen on every aspect of our lives, but that is not who we were created to be: the light of God was the beginning of creation, and that light is God’s intent for each person.  Newell writes:

Celtic teachers speak of Christ as our memory, as the one who leads us to our deepest identity . . . they are not ignoring the depth of sin’s infection . . . The infections within the human soul are chronic.  There are diseases of greed and limited self-interest among us as individuals and as nations that are ageless, so much so that we can hardly imagine what the true harmony of the earth sounds like . . . They are tangled in the roots of our being.  They are cancerous.[2]

But our illness-even as serious an illness as cancer — is never the entirety of who we are.  Jesus was without the illness of sin which has infected the rest of us: Jesus’ identity is revealed as God’s Son, God’s Chosen.  A cloud overshadowed Peter, James, and John, and a voice said, this is my Son, The Chosen.  Jesus’ transfiguration revealed his relationship with God, and the work of the cross reveals our identity and our relationship to Christ and to one another.

And here is where I would say the light and the glory of God are so bright that that we cannot see fully the mystery which is the work of the cross.  From Newell:

In the Celtic tradition, the cross is the greatest showing of God.  It discloses the first and deepest impulse of God, self-giving.  It reveals that everything God does is a pouring out of love . . . not only does the cross disclose love, but it also discloses the cost of love . . . The cross, in addition to being a revelation of the nature of God, is a revelation of our true nature, made in the image of God.  It reveals that we come closest to our true self when we pour ourselves out in love for one another.[3]

This is real blood. Jesus knew full well the cost of loving his nation and his religious tradition the way he did . . .  This is real suffering at the hands of a corrupt religious leadership and an inhumane empire.   .  . but it is not payment to God, it is disclosure of God.[4]

In Luke and Matthew’s gospels, the account of the transfiguration comes immediately after the passage we considered last week, when Jesus warned his disciples about his suffering and death, and cautioned them about the cost of being his followers.  This revelation of light and glory is not separate from Jesus’ understanding of his death on the cross, it is a continuation of it:  this is another layer in the identity of Jesus.  He stands in Jewish tradition with two of its most venerated prophets, Moses and Elijah (I wonder how the disciples knew who those two people were, since the movie The Ten Commandments had not come out yet.)  But the dazzling, blinding light of Jesus’ glory, and especially the words, “This is my Son, the Chosen,” reveal that Jesus is not simply another prophet, he is the Messiah, the Anointed One, God’s Chosen.

I believe our call, as Jesus followers and as God’s people, is to see ourselves and others in the light of creation and of God’s glory.  What is deepest about our own identity and the identity of every person is the light of the image of God.  A final word from Philip Newell:

To say that the root of every person and creature is in God, rather than opposed to God, has enormous implications for how we view ourselves . . . it also profoundly affects the way we view one another, even in the midst of terrible falseness and failings in our lives and world.[5]

The good news is that we are not confined or defined by the worst things we have done: we are freed by the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, the Chosen, whose glory revealed his identity as God’s Son.  His example shows us that we have been created in the image of God and not opposed to God.  That, brothers and sisters, is good news.  It is the best news we could receive, and the only news which honors the glory of God’s creation. That is why everybody ought to know who Jesus is. Walk in the light, and may the character of Christ shine through everything we do, and everything we are.  Amen.

[1] J. Philip Newell, Christ of the Celts The Healing of Creation, Josey-Bass 2008, p 10.

[2] Ibid, 12.

[3] Ibid, 84-85.

[4] Ibid, 90.

[5] Ibid, 15.