The theme of this Transfiguration Sunday’s reading is light: the light of the fire of the whirlwind that took up Elijah, the light of God shining forth from Zion in the Psalm, light of the transfiguration itself, and the light of the Gospel in Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians.
In the 2 Kings passage, Elijah will be taken up by God: this is public knowledge known to the company of prophets and to Elisha. Despite Elijah repeatedly telling Elisha to stay back, Elisha repeatedly responds, I will not leave you. Elisha follows him on his journey from Bethel to Jericho to the Jordan. Elijah finally responds, tell me what I may do for you, before I leave. Elisha asks for a double portion of his Spirit. Elijah says, you ask a difficult thing, but if you see me depart, it will be given to you. Indeed Elisha sees Elijah depart, in a great light: chariots of fire and horses of fire, in a whirlwind taken up to heaven.
The theme of light and whirlwind is taken up by the Psalmist in Psalm 50: God shines forth from Zion, and God is surrounded by a tempest and fire. Although Elisha demands silence from the company of prophets, the God of the Psalms does not keep silent but comes out of and calls loudly to the heavens and the earth. The message of God is never silent, although it may occur in silence; the message of God is always speaking, although it may not always be in fact translatable to speech, a fact that the those who witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus experienced.
Peter, James, and John witnessed something indescribable: Jesus transfigured in dazzling white light, whiter than any white that has ever been witnessed, and appearing with Elijah and Moses. They are dumbfounded and terrified, and only Peter manages to say anything, yet he does not know what to say: let us make 3 dwellings, one for you, one for Elijah, and one for Moses. A cloud overshadows them, and the voice from the cloud declares: This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” and suddenly, the three disciples are alone with Jesus again. Jesus exhorts them not to tell anyone what happened until after the resurrection of the Son of Man, a common theme in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus retains his Messianic Secret.
What does all these appearances of light signify? Paul gives us some answers in his Second Letter to the Corinthians: the light is the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” – it is the light that “shines out of the darkness” – it is the light that gives “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”. The light points to Christ who then points to God. Yet, this light is not for ourselves and for our sake, but “we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.”. Just as Elisha was a servant to Elijah, we are servants to Christ. Just as Elisha received a double portion of Elijah’s spirit to enable him to prophesy and do the work of God, so too did we receive the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, from Jesus Christ after his ascension to heaven, in order that we may even do greater works of God than Christ himself did. “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father”, Jesus says in John 14:12. We receive a metaphorical “double portion” of Christ’s Spirit in order to do the work of God, and be servants of Christ and God, just as Elisha received from Elijah.
This is a light that shines forth even in silence; this is a light that shines forth in knowledge and into the dark even when the audible voice and audible speech is not said and heard, as in the Messianic Secret; nevertheless, we can see the light. Even in the cloud that covers, the cloud that sometimes obfuscates and obscures, one can hear the voice of light crying out, This is my Son! Listen to him! Let us continue listening to Christ and serving Christ through the double portion of the Holy Spirit he has given to us. Let us speak the Gospel even when we are not speaking, for the Gospel always speaks through our light, which is Christ’s light.
Ben Nucum is a poet and prophet who serves on St Benedict’s vestry