Both the Roman and Eastern Rite Catholics celebrate this church feast today, August 6th, on its traditional date for both calendars. For Eastern Christians, this feast is especially significant; it is among the “12 great feasts” of Eastern Catholicism. This Gospel is proclaimed again on the 2nd Sunday of Lent to help us get glimpses of the Risen Christ and the Transfigured Christ.
The Transfiguration of Jesus happened at night!!! A new truth for me; now it makes perfect sense that in the fullness of the darkest of night an astounding brilliance shown forth from the Transfigured Jesus. This feast describes Jesus at the peak or pinnacle of His earthly life when He reveals Himself to three of His closest disciples, be means of a miraculous and supernatural light
The setting for the Transfiguration was like no other: the awe-inspiring mountain top was high enough for all to see. The fresh, crisp air, land rich in green trees and shrubs, along with fertile fruit bearing trees. Bishop Michael Curry says: “Hearts get changed on the mountain. Worlds get changed on the mountain. The mountain is a place of messianic metamorphoses.”
It can be described as a spectacular display of Trinitarian Love as we hear the words of Matthew, Mark and Luke in the Entrance Antiphon for this liturgy: “In a resplendent cloud, the Holy Spirit appeared, and the voice of the Father was heard, ‘This is My Beloved Son with whom I am well pleased…listen to Him’”
The story of the Transfiguration of Christ has puzzled the mind of Christians for centuries. It is the clearest New Testament understanding of mystical experience, the experience of spiritual things within the ordinary and the belief that the spiritual reality is greater and more beautiful than any ordinary experience. This is the central mystery of Christ’s life.
The time frame of this event is a few days short of Palm/Passion Sunday, of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Jesus, along with three New Testament men, climbed to the heights of Mt. Tabor and they were met by Moses and Elijah of the Old Testament. This was an encounter with the Living God. Yet in this awesome place, Jesus shocked them with the words that He would have to suffer, be crucified, put to death – all part of the scandal of the cross.
If we were chosen to take the place of Peter, James, or John on Mt. Tabor, this would be nothing less than our first glimpse of Jesus and our Heaven. We would use the apostles’ words: “Lord, it is good for us to be here: let’s erect three tents…” We would be telling Jesus, we are not leaving this place…this is Heaven. Like the apostles, Hey, we got this – we are not going anywhere. We are staying here forever.
The purpose of the Transfiguration was to encourage and strengthen the apostles who were depressed by their Master’s prediction of His own Passion and Death. Despite seeing Jesus standing before them in snow-white glory and the splendor of His Divinity overflowing from His body, the apostles had no thought of leaving their Transfigured Lord. YET THEY HAD TO GO BACK DOWN THE MOUNTAIN. We have to climb back down the mountain as well, each day, to take up our cross.
Like the Apostles we really need and want reassurances from Jesus that our earthly confusion and uncertainties will not last forever but this joy and consolation will never end.
Many of us have our “special place” in which to encounter our God and to experience our intimate time; be it water, a lake, or an ocean, or a wooded area. Yet the mountain top is the perfect place for others. Often in the Bible the mountain is God’s place to reveal God’s self and his plans.
Jesus is accomplishing the coming of His Kingdom, the promise of the Resurrection for us, “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all to Myself”. A few were chosen to witness this mystery of Transfiguration, this manifestation and unveiling of GOD in all magnificence when His appearance was changed by a brilliant white light shone from Him and His clothing, whiter than any white we know. Jesus clearly calls this mysterious occurrence “a vision”. It was not reality as we know it, but just a glimpse of what would be happening in the fullness of eternity.
We look forward with great longing to have our Christ shown to us as the “fullest manifestation of God’s Light”, at the moment of our death. But until then we can know this powerful moment in amazing or unusual events in nature: a spectacular sunrise or sunset, an extraordinary rainbow. As we often say, “that was a little bit of heaven”.
In this revelation atop Mt. Tabor, God showed us the connection between the Old and New Testament. In times past, God spoke to us through the laws and the prophets, (Moses and Elijah); and now in these last days – through His Son.
Finally, the Transfiguration occurred, not so much for the sake of Jesus, but it was so much more for the apostles and us. Like the apostles, we climb down the mountain once again, awed by our own experiences of God, encouraged that we know the Glory of God once again.
Deacon Brother Andrew, OSB