Saturday, August 06, 2005

Transfiguration

You were transfigured upon the mount, O Christ our God, and Your disciples, insofar as they could bear, beheld Your glory. Thus, when they see You crucified, they may understand Your voluntary passion, and proclaim to the world that You are truly the effulgence of the Father.

Today is, in some liturgical calendars, one of the Great Feasts of the Christian Year, the Solemnity of the Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ.

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother,
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them,
and his face shone like the sun,
and his clothes became white as light.
And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.
And Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good that we are here.
If you wish, I will make three tents here,
one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah."
He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them,
and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son,
with whom I am well pleased; listen to him."
When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and have no fear."
And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them,
"Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead."


The Transfiguration looks forward and backward. It is a sign for the fulfillment of the past (Moses and Elijah), and it is a sign for the anticipation of the future (the resurrection glory). Even so may our lives be both a sign indicating the fulfillment of what has previously been done by the heroes of the faith and a sign anticipating the consummation of our joy before the Throne of God and of His Lamb.

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths
when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,
but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
For when he received honor and glory from God the Father,
and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory,
"This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,"
we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven,
for we were with him on the holy mountain.
And we have something more sure, the prophetic word,
to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place,
until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,
knowing this first of all,
that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation.
For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man,
but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.


The Transfiguration expresses hope. As the Nativity reflects the Resurrection and the Resurrection the Nativity, so Transfiguration reflects the Baptism and the Baptism the Transfiguration. As Aquinas beautifully says (ST 3.45.3 ad 2), "Just as in the Baptism, where the mystery of the first regeneration was proclaimed, the operation of the whole Trinity was made manifest, because the Son Incarnate was there, the Holy Ghost appeared under the form of a dove, and the Father made Himself known in the voice; so also in the transfiguration, which is the mystery of the second regeneration, the whole Trinity appears--the Father in the voice, the Son in the man, the Holy Ghost in the bright cloud; for just as in baptism He confers innocence, signified by the simplicity of the dove, so in the resurrection will He give His elect the clarity of glory and refreshment from all sorts of evil, which are signified by the bright cloud."

O God, who in the glorious Transfiguration of thine only-begotten Son, didst confirm the mysteries of the Faith by the testimony of the fathers, and in the voice proceeding from the shining cloud didst wondrously foreshew the perfect adoption of all thy sons : mercifully grant, that we, being made fellow-heirs of Christ himself the King of glory, may attain to the partaking of the same his glory in heaven.

The Transfiguration is also about prayer. As George Whitefield says, "Was the Lord Jesus transformed or transfigured, while he was praying? Learn hence, to be much in spiritual prayer. The way to have the soul transformed, changed into, and make like unto God, is frequently to converse with God. We say, a man is as his company. Persons by conversing together, frequently catch each others tempers: and if you have a mind to imbibe the divine temper, pray much. And as Christ's garments became white and glittering, so shall your souls get a little of God's light to shine upon them." Indeed, this is precisely the core of the Orthodox tradition of prayer that's called hesychasm. As Gregory Palamas says, "For, on the day of the Transfiguration, that Body, source of the light of grace, was not yet united with our bodies; it illuminated from outside those who worthily approached it, and sent the illumination into the soul by the intermediary of the physical eyes; but now, since it is mingled with us and exists in us, it illuminates the soul from within." And as we may have in glimpses now, so will we one day have in full expression.

The Angel carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain,
and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem,
descending out of heaven from God;
and the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it:
for the glory of God did lighten it,
and the Lamb is the light thereof.


When Peter saw the miracle, he wished to prolong it. But in doing so, he missed the point: the Transfiguration is but a taste, an anticipation. Greater things are coming. As Augustine said, "Peter did not yet understand this when he wanted to remain with Christ on the mountain. It has been reserved for you, Peter, but for after death. For now, Jesus says: 'Go down to toil on earth, to serve on earth, to be scorned and crucified on earth.'" But carry it in your heart: bring the glory down from the mountain through your service in the world. Christianity itself is in this world Transfiguration; it is not the Coming Glory, but an anticipation, a promise, a glimpse, a taste. May we all be that taste of divine light in the world.

Yet if our gospel be hidden, it is hidden to them that are lost,
in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of those who do not believe, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ,
who is the image of God, should shine unto them.
For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord;
and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.
For God, who commanded, "Let light shine out of darkness,"
has shone in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God
in the face of Jesus Christ.


All glory, Lord, to thee we pay,
Transfigured on the Mount today;
Whom with the Father we adore,
And Holy Ghost, for evermore. Amen.


[I'm putting together a list of blog reading on the Transfiguration. You can find it here.]

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