Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today the Church gathers to remember an event in our Lord’s life that transcends us, that is, it exceeds our human experiences. It is most certainly a Mystery of the Faith. We celebrate and make eucharist for the Transfiguration of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ. But, why would we do that? Why would we remember and give thanks to God? Moreover, just what does it mean to transfigure, to be transfigured? In part, the definition is illustrated quite nicely in the event itself. The Evangelists all report that our Lord is changed in the presence of His hand-selected Apostles: Peter, James, and John. His appearance is altered, that is, He is transformed before them so that “His face shone like the sun, and His raiment was white as the light.”
Because this is a heavenly revelation, the Evangelists all work hard at putting it into earthly terms that pale in comparison. Webster’s defines the word transfigure as a verb meaning “to change the figure, form, or outward appearance of; to transform so as to exalt or glorify” which is indeed what St. Peter reports in his account of this great Mystery, the same Peter who was so stunned by the luminous glory that he blurted out something about building three tabernacles because part of this transfiguration of Jesus involved the revelation of two of Israel’s greatest Prophets: Moses and Elijah. What the three Apostles bore witness to is the powers of the age to come being made manifest in and through Jesus Christ. A number of the Fathers connect this revelation of the majesty of Jesus Christ to His coming Kingdom based upon our Lord’s words immediately preceding this event when He said, “’Verily I say unto you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom’” (Mt. 16:28). Peter bears this out in his Epistle read today, “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Pe. 1:10-19). St. Peter understands this as a confirmation of the prophetic word that we all would do well to heed.
The physical appearance of our Lord is transformed, but it is not changed into something it was not, just as His divinity does not consume nor absorb His humanity so that He remains true God and true Man. He is the Lord of the coming age and He is the embodiment of that transformative power from on high. He makes known to His Apostles what He truly is and has been and always will be. He is “Light of Light, true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father” (Nicene Creed). And, by the grace and mercy of God, they are granted a momentary glimpse of His divine majesty that has been hidden all this time within His flesh, the divine glory dwelling within Him. Jesus has made this revelation in the multitude of miracles during His lifetime, but never in quite the way He does now when the curtains are pulled back for but a slight moment in time and the uncreated Light reveals itself, transfiguring His face and His clothing. The Glory is the same but is revealed differently.
It is perhaps good for us to note here that the raiment of our Lord participates in His glory. He Who is brilliant light, the intensity which defies our experience and our words, communicates that energy to the clothing He was wearing. And, in fact, He communicates the same to His Apostles gathered there in stunned silence. The divine Power overshadows them in a bright cloud – not just a cloud – and they, too, become participants in and partakers of the divine nature (2 Pe. 1:4). It is the divine energy of God that they taste – “the powers of the age to come” which is “the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Hb. 6:5; Mystery of Chrismation).
Note well, beloved, how the divine fire of God does not consume nor dissolve not destroy, but rather transforms those who are its recipients. The burning bush witnessed by Moses that burned with fire but was not consumed by the flame (Ex. 3:1-17). The clothing worn by our Lord are not scorched by the intensity of the majesty revealed but rather bear witness as they, too, shine forth with glory indescribable. God does not destroy nature, but He builds upon it. The Spirit of God falls upon us and fills us with divine fire, transfiguring us, but does not destroy us. The only thing consumed is our sin, revealing the glory of the image of God in us.
The Transfiguration of our Lord is not merely nor solely a confirmation of the prophetic Word of God, but it is more: it is the destiny of us all who are in Christ God, who behold “as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, [and] are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cr. 3:18). It is Christ, the Lord of glory crucified, Who dwells now within us, says St. Paul, so that it is no longer I who live but Christ God Who lives in me and through me (1 Cr. 2:8; Ga. 2:20; Jm. 2:1). He does not destroy me but transforms me from one degree of glory to another. Although this indescribable event depicted here in the Gospel defies most all of our experiences of God (and those among us who might have experienced such do not broadcast those experiences), we nevertheless do experience transfiguration in and through the Church and her Mysteries, most notably the Holy Eucharist. We eat and drink Christ, “Light of Light, true God of true God.” We receive into our very bodies and souls the fire of His divine nature, so that we have His Eternal Life dwelling in us (Jn. 6:26-58; 2 Pe. 1:4). The bread and the wine are not destroyed but transfigured with the glory of Christ God Who, in turn, communicates that glory to us through the transfigured Sacrament. And, lo,
I who am dry grass partake of fire, and, strange wonder! I am sprinkled with dew and remain unburnt, like the bush of old which burned without being consumed. And so now with grateful heart, with gratitude in all the members of my soul and body, I worship and magnify and glorify Thee, my God, for blessed art Thou, now and forever (Sixth Pre-Communion Prayer – St. Simeon the New Theologian).
With gratitude and grateful hearts we make Eucharist for the Transfiguration of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ – a true reality we participate in as we partake of His Body and His Blood, true Food and true Drink, given by our Lord “for us men and for our salvation” (Nicene Creed).
A final thought: the Transfiguration also reveals the truth of our Faith that all who die in communion with God live in Him. Moses and Elijah, then, are living proof of this true reality. This is why we can pray to the departed saints to pray for us, to intercede on our behalf before the throne of God. And so, for this we, too, make Eucharist.
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, especially those of Moses and Elijah, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
VIGIL PROPERS: PROPERS:
Ex. 24:12-18 2 Pe. 1:10-19
Ex. 33:11-23; 34:4-6, 8 Mt. 17:1-9
3 Kg. [1 Kg.]:19:3-9, 11-13, 15-16