On Sunday, 5th August, the BBC will be broadcasting Sunday Worship from Tavistock to mark the Feast of the Transfiguration (6th August). The Exon Singers, with Conductor & Artistic Director Joseph Judge, Festival Organist Josef Laming and the FIGO Ensemble, will sing movements from Schubert’s Mass in G. The service will be broadcast at 8.10 am on BBC Radio 4.
The feast of the Transfiguration is a hugely mysterious event recorded in the New Testament. Jesus took Peter, James and John to a mountain. The Gospels do not say which mountain. Christian tradition has usually named Mount Tabor, although Mount Carmel and Mount Hermon have been mentioned as possibilities.
Matthew, Mark and Luke use slightly different phrases to tell the same story. In St. Matthew’s account: “He was transfigured: his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as light.” St.Mark says: “his clothes became dazzling white”, while St.Luke says: “his clothing became brilliant as lightning.” All three, in their slightly different ways, agree that Jesus was enveloped in a heavenly light as he was seen with Moses and Elijah. Peter, James and John are witnesses to this light. Peter, assumes he should do something. He rushes to build three tents and Luke comments: “He did not know what he was saying.” James and John – the John who was to write so movingly about Jesus as the “true light” – say and do nothing. Suddenly a cloud passes over the scene and from the shadow they hear the voice of the Father saying: “This is my Son, the Beloved.”
The images of light and darkness are so common to us that we often take them for granted: “I have seen the light” or “I was kept in the dark”, and yet they remain instantaneous and powerful images.
The Church Fathers frequently meditated on the themes of light and darkness: saying: “light is the beauty of God”, or speaking of light as “a ray of the Divinity”. In John Henry Newman’s poem “The Dream of Gerontius”, the soul of Gerontius is brought before God. For a split second Gerontius sees God as he is. The light shows up the things of which Gerontius is ashamed with dazzling clarity. Another poet, John Donne, wrote of the light of heaven in these words:
“Into that gate they shall enter, and in that house they shall dwell,
where there shall be no darkness or dazzling, but one equal light;
no noise nor silence, but one equal music;
no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings,
but one equal eternity in the habitations of thy glory and dominion”
In the Transfiguration it is this truth, the new “glory of God”, “the one equal Light” which is revealed to us.
With my love and prayers. Chris Hardwick