THE TRANSFIGURATION OF CHRIST
"And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem" (Luke 9:28-31).
Now there are many places in Scripture, geographic locations, where the most interesting and significant events occur. Like the sea, which the Almighty Lord parted and delivered his people from the tyranny of Egypt. The sea, which Christ calmed with a word and walked upon as if it were dry ground. The God of Heaven and Earth used the sea as a means of revelation, the place where he made himself known as master over creation.
The wilderness seems to be another place of biblical importance. Think of the forty years the children of Israel spent in the desert. It was in the barren wastelands that the Israelites came to a greater knowledge of the One who had redeemed them from the hand of Pharaoh. There, in the heat and rugged landscape, God manifested himself as their protector and provider. He went before and behind as a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. In the desert, the Lord God revealed himself as Israel's provider, raining manna from heaven and bringing water from a rock.
The desert was also the place where Jesus Christ overcame forty days and forty nights of being tempted by the devil. Revealing to Satan a strength and fortitude far greater than Adam's. In the desert, Jesus revealed himself to be the second Adam, the faithful Israelite, the promised seed born to crush the serpent's head. The sea and the desert: places of Divine revelation. And yet, it is upon mountains that we find the most powerful and glorious revelations of who God is.
Mountains are all over the pages of Scripture. The Lord brought the Ark to rest upon the top of a mountain from which Noah and his family stepped out onto the safety of the dry ground. And upon that mountain, Noah sacrificed and offered burnt offerings to the God who had shown himself as the great deliverer. It was upon a mountain that Abraham's knife was stayed by the hand of God who delivered Isaac by providing a sacrificial ram caught in a thicket. Abraham came face to face with the God who provides.
It was upon a mountain where four hundred priests of Baal were gloriously defeated. The Almighty God, the One and only true God, heard Elijah's prayers and revealed himself to be THE God in Israel, in fact, THE God of the world: for there is no other. Moses ascended the mountain accompanied by three men- Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu- and there, at the top, scripture records "they saw the God of Israel" (Ex 22:9). Moses encountered God on the mountain, saw something of his presence, and spoke with him. And there, on that holy mount, God revealed the divine law written in two tablets, given unto Israel that they might walk in perfect union with their God all the days of their lives.
The mountain is God's special dwelling place. It is where he chooses to meet with men, it is the place where he speaks with them, communes with them (again, in Exodus chapter 22 see God eat with Moses, his three companions, and the seventy elders). The mountain is the closet place to God's presence and where he divinely chooses to manifest his glory. Sinai, Horeb, Moriah... all of these are mountains of divine revelation and Mt. Tabor, the mount of the Transfiguration of our Lord is no exception. For at the apex of the ascent is a greater revelation of who Jesus Christ is.
St. Luke writes, "And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray." Jesus took Peter, John, and James up into a mountain to pray. We are ascending into a profound mystery because at the top of the mountain, we encounter the manifestation and revelation of Christ's Glory, the shekinah glory of God. "And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering." The revelation of Christ's divinity is shown in the Transfiguration of his earthly body: the mystery of the incarnation on full display- magnificent, radiant, and powerful. Let us then consider some implications found in the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ.
First, the Transfiguration signifies the long-awaited return of God's glory to Israel- to his creation- which is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. The Transfiguration marks the most critical stage in the unfolding revelation of God's redemptive plan for a lost and sinful world. Israel longed for her Messiah, he of whom the Law and the Prophets spoke, Son of God and Son of man, who would come to redeem Israel from the hand of her enemies. The divine presence would once again dwell in Israel; the divine glory would shine again.
St. John tells us that Christ's life was a manifestation of the divine glory, "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." You see, on the mountain, the Divine and royal presence has come in all of its glory and power. The Kingdom of God is manifested in Jesus, the Messiah who shines as brightly as the sun. Jesus is not a god from of "cunningly devised fables" but Light of Light and very God of very God. "This is my beloved Son, hear him." In Jesus, God has fulfilled his covenant promises, he bore the sins of the world, he has won our salvation. And he is with us, as he promised, by sending the Holy Spirit. In Christ, God has come and is near to us. The Divine Glory with and within you. He has not abandoned nor forgotten you, as he promised, to neither leave nor forsake you.
Second, the Transfiguration directs our worship. "And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias..." We see Moses and Elijah glorified on the mountain speaking with Christ, a clear picture of the Law and the Prophets agreeing in the Son, both converging in the embodiment of the Son. You see, what the Law and Prophets have said is now understood in the person and work of the Son of God, Jesus Christ; he is the fullest and brightest revelation of the Father's will to gather a people to himself. A people who will love their Lord with everything they are, who will love Him above all gods. No longer worshipping on a mountain or temple but in spirit and truth. A bride who worships in the name and person of Jesus Christ, the bridegroom. To worship in spirit in truth is to worship in Christ. And this is exactly where the Transfiguration places the worship of the Church: in Christ. Participating in his love and goodness through word and sacrament. Living lives which please him as our acceptable sacrifice unto him; walking in holiness and righteousness, fulfilling the Commandments of God by the Spirit AND NOT by the letter.
Third, the Transfiguration is our hope. The glorification of Christ's body on Mt. Tabor not only reveals the truth about who Jesus is but what every faithful Christian will one day become. We too will one day become as he is. We also will be transfigured, as the Lord Himself was transfigured, when our redemption is complete in the Resurrection of the Body. Then, we will forever be with Him in the new heaven and the new earth: in a transformed creation. This is a glorious truth! This promised hope, pictured in the Transfiguration, is our sure reassurance of what will be inherited at the end of the age AND the consummation of all things.
Finally, if we desire to see Christ's glory, we must do as the Disciples. They went up into a high mountain to pray. We also must try and get above this world, distanced from the troubles and cares of life. The soul which yearns for and seeks union with glorified Christ must ASCEND THE MOUNTAIN abiding in the kingdom of God as a heavenly citizen and earthly sojourner: desiring to one day be where He now is. So we arise and ascend to the Lord's table, we come up to him and enter into his presence as he is with us in the bread and the wine. We eat with him, of him, and come face to face with the Bread of Presence, the God of our salvation.
And yet, in time, we too must DESCEND, come down from the mountain like Moses and the Apostles did. But, friends, we come down different, somehow changed... transformed by the Eucharistic presence of divine glory. Transformed by the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. We descend from the table forgiven, made clean, strengthened in body and spirit, at peace with God and neighbor. Filled with Life. Filled with hope. When we leave this place, and once again descend down into the everyday valleys and shadows of this life remember... we do so as beloved sons and daughters. As children of light-filled with eternal hope. Hear, the beloved Apostle, "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" (1 Jn 3:2).
Let us pray,
O God, who on the holy mount didst reveal to chosen witnesses thy well-beloved Son wonderfully transfigured: Mercifully grant unto us such a vision of his divine majesty, that we, being purified and strengthened by thy grace, may be transformed into his likeness from glory to glory; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen+