Monday, August 5, 2013

Michael Ramsey on the Transfiguration of Jesus

This is the stained glass window of the Transfiguration in Durham Cathedral by St Cuthbert’s Shrine. It was created in honour of Michael Ramsey, who had been Bishop of Durham from 1952 to 1956. The window was designed and made by Tom Denny, and dedicated on 25th September 2010.

The Transfiguration loomed large in Ramsey’s understanding of the Gospel and the Faith. Indeed, he was once asked which of his books he enjoyed writing most, and, he replied, his 1949 book The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ.

Here are two wonderful passages from that book: 

“Forgetfulness of the truths for which the Transfiguration stands has often led to distortions. The severance of the New Testament from the Old, the cleavage between God the Redeemer and God the Creator are obvious illustrations. It is possible, alike in Christology and in sacramental teaching and in the idea of the Christian life, to regard the supernatural as replacing the natural in such a way as to ‘overthrow the nature of a sacrament’. It is possible to regard the redemptive act of God in Christ in terms so transcendental that nature and history are not seen in real relation to it, or to identify the divine act with nature and history in such a way that the other-worldly tension of the Gospel is forgetting. Against these distortions the Transfiguration casts its light in protest” (page 144).

“Confronted with a universe more terrible than ever in the blindness and the destructiveness of its potentialities, men and women must be led to Christian faith, not as a panacea of progress or as an otherworldly solution unrelated to history, but as a gospel of Transfiguration. Such a gospel transcends the world and yet speaks directly to the immediate here-and-now. He who is transfigured is the Son of Man; and as he discloses on the holy mountain another world, he reveals that no part of created things, and no moment of created time lies outside the power of the Spirit, who is Lord, to change it from glory to glory” (page 147).

And in terms of Ramsey’s view of the proximity of earth and heaven, suffering and glory, here is a short passage from his book, Introducing the Christian Faith: 

When we are faced with suffering, “it can make all the difference to look towards the cross of Jesus Christ. From there the power of transfiguring comes. And it helps to know that in the suffering of Jesus God himself is there... If we are near to Jesus we are helped to realise that the world-to-come is near, we can know that the perspective of heaven about which Jesus spoke to the dying thief is near” (page 31).


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