Last Sunday after Epiphany
We carry our cross and move toward the hour of death. Moment by moment, breath by breath, we bear the evidence of judgment and our mortal end. But we also cling to our end without end. For we carry as well, by virtue of faith and baptism, a spark of the light that radiated from Christ upon the holy mount. We are being strengthened to bear our cross, and we are being changed into his likeness from glory to glory. This is not a mere wish. It is the normal condition of all the baptized.
We look to Moses, and then to Jesus, and then to ourselves, and see the working of divine light. We recall the prologue of John’s Gospel, however, and assert that Moses is not the light and we are not the light; Jesus is, in essence, divine light. “He himself [John] was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light [Jesus], which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:8-9). Thus, by a mystical participation in God, light breaks forth in the countenance of humans — the light which enlightens everyone — as well as in countless natural/supernatural epiphanies.
“Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain” (Ex. 24:15-18). The glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire; it settled upon the mountain; and, as we know from another text, that same glory blazed upon and illuminated the face of Moses. “Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he was talking with God” (Ex. 34:29). Moses was not the light, but his countenance bore witness to the light.
Before his passion, Jesus was transfigured in the presence of Peter and James and his brother John. Three dear friends of Jesus saw, although for a moment, what was true all along, from before time and forever. “He was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Matt. 17:2). Moses, representing the law, and Elijah, representing the prophets, appeared with him, showing that the law and the prophets are assumed and fulfilled in Christ. The light on the face of Moses and the chariot of fire that carried Elijah to heaven are signs of Christ. Christ, however, points to no other light, for he is the light. “And then they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone” (Matt. 17:7). Jesus is the morning star.
This light, which we may also call “grace,” is transferred to disciples. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). The light of Christ is a devouring fire, but in regard only to the old humanity. When Christ ignites a human life, he burns away the dross of sin. Over time and through spiritual disciplines, purifies passions, creating a new and luminous human being. In Christ the light, a disciple becomes in the truest and simplest sense, a human being. Mercifully and remarkably, Christ the light shines in each person as is fitting, the flames are congruent (congruis ignibus), as a Latin hymn has it. Christ passes the torch of his life to each uniquely and fittingly, and to all universally.
Look It Up: II Peter 1:18
Think About It: You are with him on the holy mountain.