Seven Ways of Looking at the Transfiguration

by Sarah Hinlicky Wilson

Jesus metamorphosed. Celebrities from the past. Petrified disciples. Luminous cloud. An event as important as Christmas or Easter!

Coming in July 2024

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About the Book

Are you a preacher wondering what on earth you can possibly say new and interesting on Transfiguration Sunday this year—to say nothing of all the Transfigurations that lie ahead of you?

Are you an everyday disciple curious to learn more about this holiday celebrated in church every year just like Christmas and Easter, but somehow overlooked and ignored?

Are you one of those people who is hooked on weird theological terms, intrigued by the fact that “transfiguration” is Latin for the Greek “metamorphosis” (as in butterflies and Kafka), and loves to explore every wild and woolly corner of the Bible?

Are you a little tired of Peter always getting bashed for his offer to build booths?

If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, then Seven Ways of Looking at the Transfiguration needs to be at the top of your reading list!

 

The seven ways:

  1. Metamorphosis : Jesus
  2. Eschaton : Elijah
  3. Exodus : Moses
  4. Tabernacles : Israel
  5. Eyewitnesses : Peter, James, and John
  6. Cloud : God the Father
  7. Parousia : My Son, My Beloved

 

Here are some questions about the Transfiguration that are answered in the book:

+ What can it possibly mean for the eternal Lord to be transfigured, metamorphosed—changed?

+ Why does Luke delete the word “transfigured” from his version of the, um, well, Transfiguration?

+ Why does only Jesus’ clothing change in Mark’s Gospel, but his face, too, in Matthew and Luke?

+ Why was it Moses and Elijah, out of all possible Old Testament figures, who met with Jesus on the mountaintop? (Spoiler alert: NOT because they represent “the law and the prophets”!)

+ Which mountain was it, anyway?

+ Why were Peter, James, and John the only disciples invited to see the Transfiguration?

+ Why was it so offensive for Peter to offer to build three booths for the three famous men? (Another spoiler alert: NOT because he was a babbling idiot!)

+ Why does God speak to Jesus at his Baptism and his Transfiguration, but not at his Resurrection?

+ Why doesn’t the Gospel of John have a Transfiguration story? (Or does it?)

+ Why doesn’t St. Paul talk about the Transfiguration? (Or does he??)

+ Why does Second Peter, of all oddball little epistles, talk about the Transfiguration???

+ Will we be transfigured someday, too?

+ What essential thing does the Transfiguration tell us about Jesus that his Resurrection does not?

And so many more questions besides!

 

Here’s how this book came about.

I’m a preacher who follows the church year. I’ve got plenty to say on Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. The rest of the year, with four readings each Sunday that vary over the course of a three-year lectionary, I’ve got more than enough material to choose from. (Besides which, I veer off the lectionary from time to time. Shocking, I know!)

But then, in my fourth year at Tokyo Lutheran Church, with Transfiguration Sunday rolling around yet again, I realized: I have nothing left to say about this!

How can an event in the life of Christ important enough to come around every year be so hard to keep preaching on?

Then again, why had I heard so little discussion of the Transfiguration of Jesus at all?

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all relate the event; for them, it’s the linchpin between Jesus’ itinerant ministry and his turning toward Jerusalem to face his death on the cross.

I figured there had to be more going on here than I realized. And I figured other folks were in same quandary as I am.

So I hit the books… and this new book is the result.

Seven Ways of Looking at the Transfiguration will fill in with bright colors whatever sketchy gray version of the Transfiguration dwells in the dusty corners of your mind—and it will give you food for thought for seven years to come (at least!).

Bonus for pastors preparing for Transfiguration: Here you’ll find Liturgical Resources for Transfiguration Sunday for use in your worship service, adapted from patristic, medieval, Reformation, and early modern sources.

Bonus for adult study group and book club leaders: A list of Discussion Questions for Seven Ways of Looking at the Transfiguration.

Bonus for hungry readers: A cookbooklet entitled “Seven Recipes for Celebrating the Transfiguration,” featuring Gleaming White Panna Cotta, Grape Harvest Focaccia, Tapplenacles, Mulmul Yeasted Loaf, Nuage sur le Soleil, Sukkot Stuffed Peppers, and Mountain of TransFIGuration.

About the Author

Sarah Hinlicky Wilson writes, walks, cooks, and podcasts in Tokyo, Japan, where she lives with her husband and son. She’s associate pastor at Tokyo Lutheran Church, a Visiting Professor of the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, France, and an Affiliated Faculty Member at the Johannelund School of Theology in Uppsala, Sweden.

Sign up for her quarterly e-newsletter Theology & a Recipe and follow her other work at www.sarahhinlickywilson.com.

Listen to her new fiction podcast, Sarah Hinlicky Wilson Stories, and her long-running theology podcast Queen of the Sciences: Conversations between a Theologian and Her Dad, with Paul R. Hinlicky (her dad—you guessed it!).

Praise for Seven Ways of Looking at the Transfiguration

This volume is a model of theological reflection. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson takes up the biblical story of the Transfiguration and “keeps tugging, keeps finding” deep meanings within it. The method applies to any Scripture, as in the Jewish conviction that one must turn the Torah over and over, for everything is in it. But most especially this patient exploration applies to the mysteries of Jesus’ life, he who is the filling-up of the Scriptures, and the books about whose life are endless (John 21:25). Ordering her book according the four accounts of the Transfiguration, including II Peter’s, and following their Old Testament threads, Wilson identifies seven corridors of meaning to explore, some familiar to Christians, like the Eschaton; others, Israel’s festival of Sukkot, less so. One of her major arguments, that the transfigured Jesus is to be carefully distinguished in significance from the resurrected Jesus, is provocative and pastorally rich. Written in down-to-earth yet also transcendently evocative prose, accessible yet also theologically rich explication, and patient yet morally urgent observation, Wilson provides faithful Christians and pastors with a trove of revelatory insights into the life of Christ and the destiny into which he calls us.

—Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner, Professor Emeritus of Historical Theology at Wycliffe College and author of Time and the Word: The Figural Reading of Scripture