I grew up in Southern Baptist congregations. By the time I left high school I knew the four steps to salvation and the meaning of Jesus’ sacrificial death as a substitutionary atonement for my sins. I could articulate this understanding of salvation in clear and simple terms. Within the metanarrative of evangelical Christianity it made perfect sense and was logically coherent.
The transfigured Christ is miraculously lifted above Mount Tabor between Moses (on the right) and Elijah (on the left). James, Peter and John (from left to right) react to the blinding light and powerful drama occurring above them. Raphael is often called the great assimilator of the High Renaissance style, and the work exhibits the expected characteristics of balance, proportion and symmetry. The transfiguration appears in the upper half of the large altar painting (13'4" × 9'2") while the story of the possessed boy (which follows the story of the transfiguration in Matthew 17) inhabits the earthly realm. This is the last piece of art that Raphael worked on before his death on Good Friday, April 6, 1520, at age 37. It was brought from his studio in Rome and placed above his bier during the funeral in the Pantheon. The painting was originally commissioned by Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici for the Cathedral of Narbonne, France. He established a competition between Raphael and Sebastiano del Piombo, a Venetian artist, and Raphael may have included the rendering of the possessed boy to outdo Sebastiano.
For this Transfiguration Sunday, the preacher faces at least two temptations.
The first is to move too quickly to the pastoral and personal dimensions of these texts, to consider how we, too, are transfigured by God’s love, glory and grace. And the epistle lesson does bring this theme up. But Exodus and Luke invite us to explore the natureof God’s glory itself, and it’s rewarding to focus first on these rich texts.
Oh Peter, how I love thee. You make my craziness seem normal, thank you.
In the midst of the most amazing thing he had seen to this point, the
Transfiguration, Peter stops being present to the glory just long
enough to say, “Master, it good for us to be here. Let’s build three
dwellings: one for Elijah, one for Moses, and one for you.”