In the cycle of Scripture readings for the Episcopal Church, this Sunday's selection dealt with what is known as the Transfiguration. The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 17, says:
"And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white...When the disciples [saw and] heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying 'Get up and do not be afraid.'"
This passage is very similar to mythology, but we need not assume (if we are not believers) that it is a myth, as many contemporary Christians do. For one thing, today's reading from the Second Letter of St. Peter, Chapter one, says:
"We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty...We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, where we were with him on the holy mountain..."
So this story is, in and of itself, a comment on the idea that there is no proof that Jesus actually lived. Peter speaks of himself as an eyewitness to at least this one miracle, and apparently he knows what a myth is. St. James, the brother of the Lord, also has left us a document that he wrote, and St. Paul knew both Peter and James and visited them as deputies of Jesus, who had been dead for several years by the time Paul got together with the Church in Jerusalem.
We might dismiss this, especially if we want to believe that there is no proof of Jesus' existence, except for this: Over the last few years a Big Lie has been pushed on Americans by conservative politicians and their minions in the media: that President Barack Obama was not born in Hawaii. This might not seem relevant to the existence of Jesus, but we have actually seen the President produce his "long form" birth certificate, which is basically identical to mine except for the data, and still the conservative media has just dismissed it. In other words, a birth certificate does not prove anything to anybody who doesn't want to believe that an individual was born at a certain time and place.
So at this juncture in history, anyone who produced some kind of document that purported to verify the birth of Jesus would not be believed. I wouldn't believe it either, because there were no birth certificates signed and sealed either by Romans or Jews in First-Century Palestine.
But the mythological similarity comes from a Greek myth dealing with a young woman named Semele. She had an affair with Zeus and the myth goes that he made a foolish "anything you want" promise to her. Semele, who also didn't think straight, asked Zeus to reveal himself to her in his true form as he appears on his throne at Mount Olympus, and when he did she was burned to ashes from the unearthly splendor of his presence.
This story tells us something very important: there is a vast difference between a divinity and a human being. A divine entity ought to be treated as much more than super-human: they are an entirely different being. So in the story of the Transfiguration I analyze Jesus' appearance, which obviously alarmed the disciples who were with him, as an appearance in which he came close to revealing his spiritual body.
This is not a heretical thought: C. S. Lewis points out in his book Mere Christianity, that if any of us could behold our blessed dead in their present form, glorified by God, but appearing on this earth, we would be strongly tempted to worship them. And Lewis says that such is the destiny of all who will make their way to God's presence in the next life. So what Peter, James and John saw may have been an appearance of Jesus' spiritual body.
This is very interesting, because it gives us a hint that the Veil between this life and the next is not a hard-and-fast line to cross, but more like a passage. At the time that the Transfiguration happened Jesus was close to the end of his life, and perhaps his transformation from his physical body to an appearance of his spiritual body was possible.
I know that when I was recovering from a Code Blue "death" several years ago I had supernatural experiences, but only right after I was revived. The experience I had stopped a few days later, as I made my way (apparently) farther from the Other Side and back into the land of the living. But when we put these passages together we can begin to piece together what it is like to pass through the Veil and then, as in my case, pass through again back into this life.
It makes all the Resurrection experiences that are recounted in the New Testament easier to think about, as well: Jesus' spiritual body had some qualities that our physical bodies do not have. At least once, he appeared to his friends but was not recognized; another time he is said to have appeared inside a locked room. I cannot walk through even a closed door, but the properties of a spiritual body are such that perhaps it is not impossible for them.
I think that one thing we gain from thinking about this is a sense that there is no need for a hard-and-fast attitude: either it happened or it was all delusion. I think we can move at least towards an open mind. It may have happened but I don't claim to know how it happened. Perhaps there is more in heaven and earth than we realize, as Hamlet said (or words to that effect).
For more info: the pushback against the "kill the gays" bill in Uganda, which their president signed (although it was ratcheted down to a bill to imprison LGBT citizens for life), has given rise to annoyance in the Ugandan Anglican Church. Their hierarchy is now threatening to secede from the Anglican Communion worldwide. This is very good news as far as I am concerned, because the African Church is pretty much an embarrassment to Christians around the rest of the world.
Aside from the heightening tension over inclusion, the Catholic Church in Africa is someday going to have to deal with the rape of Catholic nuns by Catholic priests who do not "agree" with the Church's requirement of celibacy. These priests are using nuns as their own private stable of partners, although "partners" is not the word for young girls who enter their order in good faith and then find themselves raped repeatedly. Some Pope or other is going to have a showdown with the African priesthood over this.
I hope the Ugandan Anglicans, who are already in disgrace, go ahead and do their ecclesiastical action sooner rather than later so that we can be rid of them and the Anglican Communion can stand for equality and tolerance. So go for it, Uganda, and good riddance!