The Transfiguration, Year A: Transfigured and Ascending

The Transfiguration is depicted in mosaics over the principal Altar at the church on Mt. Tabor | Scott Gunn/Flickr

The Transfiguration, Aug. 6

Ex. 34:29-35
Ps. 99 or 99:5-9
2 Pet. 1:13-21
Luke 9:28-36

St. Peter, distinguishing himself from those who “follow cleverly devised myths,” turns to an event whose credibility is confirmed by eyewitnesses: “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 had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Pet. 1:16-18).

The gospel tells the same story, adding details about who is present — Peter, James, and John as witnesses, and three persons emblazoned in glory on the mountain: Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Moses and Elijah represent, respectively, the Law and the Prophets, and their eventual disappearance no doubt suggests that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament dispensation. “Jesus was found alone” (Luke 9:36).

Both Peter’s personal account and the gospel account place special emphasis on the “Majestic Glory.” “[W]hile [Jesus] was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Luke 9:29). The prologue of St. John’s gospel tells us, “The true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world” (John 1:9). The 14th verse of the prologue says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten son from the Father” (John 1:14). While there is something almost charming and homely about Jesus “dwelling among us,” or, as it may also be translated, “pitching his tent among us,” we should not lose sight of the glory that is revealed. The countenance and clothing of Jesus glow and flash with a divine radiance not of this world. In this scene, divine transcendence becomes an immanent presence in the world.

Peter, James, and John are eyewitnesses. We are not. Are we, therefore, cut off from this event or related to it only in a distant way, an event from which we may perhaps derive instruction? No! In all the mysteries of the life of Christ, we stand, as if in persona Christi, in the person of Christ; not only that, but we stand in the person of every character in the story. With Moses and Elijah, we affirm all past revelation, and, standing in Christ, we affirm the singular and supreme revelation in Christ, a revelation at work in our lives because we are mystical members of Christ’s body. Therefore, in a real and important sense, his transfiguration is ours.

We are drawn up to the holy mountain. In the words of the Psalter, “I lift up my soul to you” (142:8). Another line, whose meaning is somewhat contested, may connote an inward and upward journey. “Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion” (ascensiones in corde suo disposuit) (Ps. 84:5) We set our minds on things that are above, where Christ is. We lift up our hearts, and in doing so, we receive a measure of the glory of Christ and shine as lights in the world. “We all,” says St. Paul, “with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).

Daily life is largely mundane. Tasks, obligations, work, and frustration define our days. And yet we have always within us a blazing light of divine glory; we possess as treasure “Thou that art perfect in beauty” (Thomas Traherne).

Look It Up: Psalm 99:9

Think About It: Worship him upon his holy hill.


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