Posted by: owizblog | February 24, 2014

Transfiguration Hymn

There’s a shortage of Transfiguration hymns, and I have always felt the need of one that makes the connection between the Transfiguration and the preceding Peter’s Confession. Critical Biblical scholarship has long recognized that the Transfiguration is a displaced Resurrection narrative, (Bultmann) and that the reason Mark puts it where he does is that the architecture of the Gospel narrative he is constructing requires a counterbalance to the confession of Peter that Jesus is the Messiah, and its aftermath, in which Jesus effectively says “Yes, but I’m not the sort of Messiah you think I am!” (Norman Perrin argues, convicingly to my mind, that Mark here asserts that Jesus even exceeds the category of Messiah.)

The destruction of the Messianic dreams, at the very point Jesus’ Messiahship is affirmed, leads to a period of what can only be described as “mourning” – for the lost anticipated future. (This “mourning” exhibits, I believe, all the “stages” of grief advanced by Kubler-Ross.) Eight days after the trauma of loss, which is what Caesarea Philippi represents, comes the Transfiguration, which is a narrative statement that there is a “beyond” to this grieving – even if, in Mark’s own narrative terms, it doesn’t fully bring the disciples out of their grief and confusion.

The linkage between Peter’s confession of Messiahship, Jesus’ radical reworking of it in terms of reality, suffering and death, the exploration of this in terms of what it means for the day-to-day living-out of discipleship in the world, and the meaning of hope – and the implications of all of this for twenty-first century Christian faith and discipleship – seems a nexus well worth exploring in a hymn.

If this is useful for you, please do use it, but please do also make the usual indications of authorship and copyright.

(Tune: Austrian Hymn, Joseph Haydn)

Up that weary hill they stumbled

Stunned by words that made no sense,

With their easy dreams had crumbled

Galilean innocence

“You’re the Christ!” glib Peter’d trumpeted!

“Yes – but listen!” Jesus said

“Christ’s road leads down to Jerusalem,

And this Christ will soon be dead.”

 

Up that hill just eight days later,

Followed Peter, James and John

Stumbling through their new reality

Dreams destroyed, faith clinging on.

With them, Jesus; through this strangeness

He was still what he had been;

Who that was, since Caesarea,

They must start afresh to glean.

 

Up the hill, and then, exhausted,

Down to rest: and there they wait;

Jesus moves away a distance,

Prays; they nod – it’s getting late.

Now from sleep they’re fully wakened

Now they see! Unearthly, bright  –

Hope, anticipating Easter:

Life destroys death’s  fearful night!

 

Down the same strange hill they stumble,

All is different, all the same

Still before them lies Jerusalem,

Their denial, flight and shame.

Their new grasp of him will loosen,

His of them they will not shake;

They have glimpsed the truth that’s in him,

Know his way is theirs to take.

 

Up our own steep hill to worship,

Wearying gradient of the mind,

Lord, we come, from life’s reality;

If escape we seek to find,

That is not what Jesus offers:

Truth, not wish-dreams;  self denied;

Cross borne daily; his, our journey;

Life transfigured, death destroyed.

(c) John Owain Jones, 2014


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