Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ
The Gospel St. Luke 9.28
At that time: and it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, Jesus 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. But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him. And it came to pass, as they departed from him, Peter said unto Jesus: Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said. While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them; and they feared as they entered into the cloud. And there came a voice out of the cloud saying: This is my beloved Son: hear him. And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone. And they kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the Trinity Season gives us the opportunity to contemplate the Mystery of the Triune God; and the lessons that are provided in our Lectionary for any certain Sunday during this Season often point us toward one particular Person of the Eternal Godhead. Today, in this passage from St. Luke’s Gospel, we are moved to contemplate the Second Person of the Holy Trinity; God the Son.
Obviously, the reason why I would make this assertion is shown in the verse which I have just quoted; “And there came a voice out of the cloud saying: This is my beloved Son: hear him“. Based on this, we might be justified in believing that this proclamation from God Himself was the sole reason for and significance of Our Lord’s Transfiguration.
But, as always, when we attempt to engage in such simplification, we often miss the entirety of the message. And as a result, we miss the Miraculous wonder of the Incarnation; we miss the glory, the Mystery and the Majesty of Our Lord’s time here on earth; we miss the significance of the Son of God.
The first thing that jumps out at us is the location of this event; on a mountain. Various scholars and historians have debated whether this was Mount Tabor or Mount Hermon; but the real significance here is that Scripture is rife with examples of God pronouncing some “revelation” of Himself on a mountain.
When God first appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush, it was on a mountain (Exodus 3:2-4). When God appeared to Moses and gave him the Law (the 10 Commandments), it was on a mountain (Exodus 24:12). Later, when Christ himself gave his most famous “sermon”, it was on a mountain (St. Matthew 5). The implication is clear; when God speaks to us from a mountain, when He speaks to us “from on high”, there is an added importance, an added significance, to His message.
Next we have the appearance of Moses and Elijah. As I’ve already implied, Moses was supreme law-giver of Israel. Elijah was the first and greatest of the Prophets; the one who foretold the coming of the Messiah. And not only do they “appear”, but they are seen to be talking with Jesus about his impending fate.
The Law-giver, the Prophet, and the Incarnation of God; in consultation about the future; a future that we know all too well. But in this one scene we also are given three very important points to contemplate.
First, the presence of Moses and Elijah represents the entirety of the Old Testament (“the Law and the Prophets”). Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, are all that came before; the Old Covenant, the Promise of God to His Chosen people.
Second, by their presence, Moses and Elijah acknowledge that Jesus is the one who will fulfill both the Law and the ancient prophecies; Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all that has been taught and foretold; and in him the Old Covenant of God has been made complete.
And third, we are told that just prior to the appearance of Moses and Elijah, Jesus “countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering “; and we recall Moses encounter with God on Mount Sinai, after which the skin of his face shone as one who has been in the Presence of the Divine. It is that same Divine Presence that St. Luke is describing here today; it is the Presence of God Incarnate; it is the Presence of the Son of God.
But here we must also step back and remember the “history” of Jesus life; and we must likewise remember that the Son of God was not only Divine, but human as well. The Baptism of Christ, which is recounted in the 3rd Chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel (3:13-17) marked the beginning of his earthly ministry. Likewise, the Transfiguration marks the “beginning of the end” of that ministry.
From this point on in the Gospels, Our Lord’s path will lead inexorably toward Jerusalem. It will lead toward his Passion and his Death on the Cross. From this point on, the path of Jesus of Nazareth will lead to pain and suffering; and although he is the Divine Incarnation of God, still, as the human Son of God, it is a path that he must choose. “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“.
Now there are some who have speculated that during this event, Jesus sought and received God’s approval to take that next step in his journey to the Cross. I disagree; though my differences may be based in semantics. You see, I don’t believe that Jesus ever needed to seek God’s approval for that next step; rather, I believe that the appearance and consultation of Moses and Elijah, the two greatest human figures in Jewish history, confirmed to Jesus of Nazareth, the human Son of God, that the time had come for him to complete his mission on Earth.
This is why our earlier references to Jesus, that his “countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering“ are so significant; To be sure, his outward appearance was changed and transformed; but this does not mean that he was simply being observed in a different light; rather Jesus appeared in a glorified and exalted state. Just as Moses face shone when he came down from the mountain after being in the presence of God, so to did Jesus appear as one who had been glorified and exalted by the Most High.
“and when they were awake, they saw his glory“. Here I must once again remind you of the theme of the mountain that we started with today. Obviously, this great mystery of the Transfiguration took place in just such a location. And as we’ve already covered, this miracle aligns with the other appearances of God in the Old Testament. But here there is also another, more tragic theme; the inattention of the Apostles; “But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep“.
This is the state that we find ourselves in all too often. We allow our senses, our minds, our hearts, our spirits to become lethargic and dull. We become complacent in our Faith and when that happens, we are “asleep at the switch” when God’s Glory is presented to us.
It is only when we shake off our lethargy and fill our hearts and minds with the wondrous message of the Gospel that we may become “fully awake”. It is only when we resist the temptation to complacency that we may see the Glory of God. It is only when we lift up our spirits in the worship of Our Lord that we may better appreciate the Miracle of the Incarnation. And only then can we truly see the Son of God. “and when they were awake, they saw his glory“.
To be “transfigured” means simply that an outward form or appearance has been changed. But when we contemplate the Transfiguration of Christ, the word has an additional, more significant meaning; “to change so as to glorify or exalt”. This is what the Gospel is telling us; this is what Peter and John and James witnessed. The appearance of Jesus was not simply changed, but it was Glorified and Exalted; above and beyond even the images of Moses and Elijah. And this Glorification, this Exaltation of the Son of God, is then sealed by none other than God the Father himself; “And there came a voice out of the cloud saying: This is my beloved Son: hear him“.
It is the Presence of God Incarnate that fulfills the Law and the Prophets and completes all that has come before. It is the Presence of God Incarnate that changes, transforms, and transfigures us; so that we may likewise shine in the Glory of God. It is the Presence of God Incarnate that continues in our lives through His Most Blessed Sacrament. It is the Presence of God Incarnate that inspires us to resist complacency and to boldly proclaim the Gospel.
God the Father has spoken to us from on high; and it the Presence of His Son that awakens our hearts, our minds and our spirits, so that we may likewise bear witness to His Glory.
“And there came a voice out of the cloud saying: This is my beloved Son: hear him“.