“..There in their presence, He was transfigured; His face shone like the sun and His clothes became as dazzling as light.. Suddenly, a bright cloud covered them with shadow, and suddenly from the cloud there came a voice which said – ‘This is My Son, the Beloved; My favour rests with Him’..” (Mt. 17:2-5)
The Transfiguration of the Lord is one of those Gospel events in which the divinity of Christ is clearly revealed. It seems to harken back to the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan, where the same heavenly voice resonates and gives credence and authority to the Person of Jesus.
Unlike the Baptism in the Jordan, in the Transfiguration Jesus is accompanied by the Prophet Elijah and by Moses. One representing the Prophets, the other representing the Law – both huge figures in the Old Testament, and of great relevance to the Jewish people. And yet here, great though they certainly are, authority is given not to them, but to Jesus; for He is the Son of the living God. Jesus is the New Covenant, the One of whom the Prophets spoke, and the fulfilment of the Law.
In the Person of Christ, God truly meets man, stooping to His level, becoming man and entering human history, while remaining God. As St John tells us in his Gospel, seemingly in reference to this event of the Transfiguration –
“The Word became flesh, He lived among us and we saw His glory, the glory that He has from the Father as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14)
Perhaps the Baptism of Jesus and His Transfiguration can be seen as ‘hinges’ of sorts, upon which swings the public ministry of the Lord; one occurs at it’s beginning, the other nearing it’s conclusion.
The purpose of the event seems to be to strengthen those Apostles – Peter, James and John – who were present; shortly afterwards, the Passion would begin. Later, those same Apostles would be called upon to witness to the Lord, something they could not do without His grace. And so, by extension, the Transfiguration is meant for each of us, for we are all called to be witnesses to the Lord in all we are and in all we do. As St John Paul II put it –
“Today, the Eucharist which we are preparing to celebrate takes us in spirit to Mount Tabor together with the Apostles Peter, James and John, to admire in rapture the splendour of the transfigured Lord. In the event of the Transfiguration we contemplate the mysterious encounter between history, which is being built every day, and the blessed inheritance that awaits us in heaven in full union with Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.
We, pilgrims on earth, are granted to rejoice in the company of the transfigured Lord when we immerse ourselves in the things of above through prayer and the celebration of the divine mysteries. But, like the disciples, we too must descend from Tabor into daily life where human events challenge our faith. On the mountain we saw; on the paths of life we are asked tirelessly to proclaim the Gospel which illuminates the steps of believers” (Homily of Pope John Paul II, feast of the Transfiguration, 6th August 1999)
Peter wished to remain there on the mountain, savouring that astonishing moment of the Transfiguration. But as Pope John Paul makes clear, that moment of grace is meant to support us in the things to come – it is a moment we must internalise and then carry with us, drawing upon it’s grace and obtaining strength from it. The Transfiguration is about movement, not about standing still.
Our Faith is very much about movement, constantly going forward with trust in the Lord Who reveals His divinity to us; but Who, in other moments, remains hidden and quiet. The Transfiguration is perhaps intended for those moments, for the times when it is not easy to believe or to keep moving or to continue trusting.
Like Peter, James and John, may we have the courage of our convictions, regardless of the personal cost. And may the Lord reveal His strength in our weakness.