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It feels like a very long time ago now, and I think I’ve forgotten most of the stuff that I learnt, but once upon a time I did a degree in Astrophysics. I had hoped, when I started the course, that I’d be spending most of my time looking romantically up a telescope, but of course, despite growing up in wet Wales, I hadn’t counted on Britain’s cloudy skies thwarting that at every opportunity. I had some amazing experiences though, on those times when the sky was clear. Studying the moon with a 150 year old telescope, gazing at far away galaxies and nebulae, and, the best of all, was the night when Saturn happened to be in just the right place. I saw the planet looking about the size of an orange as I put my eye to the eyepiece. I could see the rings and the shadow that they made on the planet’s surface. And looking more closely, I could see four of Saturn’s moons; tiny bright sparks buzzing around like bees.
The amazing thing about a lot of what you can see in space, especially the things that you can see with the naked eye, like the moon, or a planet, is that they don’t produce their own light. When I was growing up in the middle of nowhere, and I was dropped off half a mile from home after being out at a friends, I could often find my way back down the lane (in a place with no street lighting) using only the light of the moon, even if it was far from a full one. And yet, none of that light comes from itself – it is just reflected, shining back at us the light from the sun 93 million miles away. Without the sun, lots of the beauties of the solar system would be invisible to us.
In fact, it is through reflected light that we see anything at all. I was watching a stupid YouTube video the other day when someone painted the inside of a large box with the blackest paint that exists. It absorbs 99.4% of visible light, and so, when the presenter of the video went inside and turned on a light, it basically didn’t work. He still looked like he was standing inside a bottomless abyss. The only reason we see anything is because the light reflects off it into our eyes. But this isn’t a physics lesson, it’s a sermon, so why am I going on about it.
In our Gospel reading today, we hear the famous story of the Transfiguration. In Mark’s Gospel, as with so much in his Gospel, there’s not flourishes around the scene. We get straight to the point. Jesus walks up the mountain with a handful of his disciples, and he is transfigured. What this means, we are told, is that he appeared dazzling white. Shining, glowing. The disciples, we often see in artistic depictions, are almost blinded by what they see, so great was the light. And then, a voice comes from heaven “This is my beloved son. Listen to him”. We are thrown back to Jesus’ baptism, and the disciples are one again reminded once, and for all, who this is. But like the baptism, we don’t really know who hears this voice. We assume that it was the disciples, Matthew’s Gospel makes it explicit that they hear, but it might simply have been something that Mark puts in, words aimed at the reader, rather than the disciples. What is key, is the shining light. That the disciples, and us, see a radiant transformation.
But what is that shining light? Where does it come from? I think I have always assumed that it has been a light that comes directly from Jesus, that he is the source of the light the disciples see. But the more I have thought about this passage, the more I have come to the conclusion that Jesus is simply reflecting the light from elsewhere. That the light comes from the Father along with his voice, and Jesus is acting as a mirror, reflecting that light to the disciples and to us. The reason, the light then is so dazzling, is not that Jesus is the source, but because he reflects the light of the Father so perfectly, and in doing so, teaches us all valuable lesson. That the love that the Father bestow on us is not made to be absorbed. Yes, it is made for us to feel. Yes, it is made to fill us up and know how radically we are loved. But ultimately, it is given to us to reflect back out, to dazzle others with it’s overwhelming brightness.
As Christians, you know that your calling is to show the same radical love to others that God shows to us. That when we love people that others may find it hard to love, it is not just our own love with which we love, but it is with the love of Christ. That is how we are given all the graces to love so brightly, how we can love without counting the cost, and how we can love when others simply wish to turn away. Of course, we do not love perfectly – we all know that. But when we focus some of our energy not on absorbing the love God gives us, but instead, focus on reflecting it back, we are in fact making it easier. The sun uses a huge amount of energy to shine. I did a little calculation to try and help you see how much, though I’m not sure it’ll be that helpful. Each second, the sun uses the equivalent energy of this many Mars Bars: 35 with 23 0’s after it. That’s a lot of Mars Bars. The moon, nothing. The energy that we need to love others, when we absorb all of God’s love and try to work out for ourselves who to give it to is large. Instead, we are called reflect God’s love, regardless of who looks on. We may not think we will appear dazzling white, but to those who are most used to not feeling love from anyone, may see us in a very different way indeed.