The Feast of the Transfiguration is ultimately about vision. The Lord brought Peter, James and John up a high mountain in order that they might come to see. Even the word that describes this day bespeaks vision. It is from the Latin Transfiguratione. Trans means “across” and by extension “change” and figura, means “shape” or “form.” The suffix “ation” takes a verbal action and makes it a noun. Putting it all together transfiguration means a process by which Christ changed form or appearance. Christ gave them a glimpse of his true glory, he allowed them to see across (trans) to the other shore, to the true glory of Christ.
So the Feast of the Transfiguration is about vision. Have you seen the glory of Christ? Have you glimpsed God’s glory? Have you looked across to the other shore? It is so essential for us to have this experience! Otherwise the discouragements and disappointments of life can easily overwhelm us. Only when we glimpse the glory and experience the joy of God can we truly say, by experience that our sufferings are more than worth it; That the sufferings of this world cannot even been compared to the glory that waits (Rom 8:18); that our momentary afflictions are producing for us a weight of eternal glory beyond compare (2 Cor 4:17). Have you glimpsed the glory of God and Is this something you even expect to experience in your life? We ought to asked for this wondrous gift for it is essential for us.
Now of course, heavenly visions are not something we order like pizza. We can and must ask God for this vision but we must also understand that there are things God does to give us this vision, to make this vision grow and sharpen. Notice in the Gospel for today’s Mass four basic ways in which God ushers in this vision, clarifies it, grants it and helps it grow:
- The CLIMB– Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up a mountain to pray. The other Gospels describe this as a “high” mountain. Tradition assigns Mt Tabor as the place of the Transfiguration. This is no small hill! It is indeed quite a climb to the top. I have visited there twice and, after the long drive to the top in buses with special transmissions designed for the climb, the view of the Jezreel Valley is like being up in an airplane. It probably took the four of them the better part of a day, maybe two to get to the top on foot. They must have been hardy men for such a climb. Consider too that they had to carry water and other provisions up with them. Now the point is, the vision they will experience comes only after a hard and difficult climb. It is true fact in my life and your too, I am sure, that suffering and difficulty usually gives new vision, opens new vistas, brings deeper understanding. Suffering is not something we enjoy to be sure, but it is part of the climb. There is an old Gospel song that says, “I’m coming up on the rough side of the mountain!” The paradox announced by the song is that it is easier to climb on the rough side of the mountain. That’s where the climbing is to be had. That’s where the progress is possible. The smooth side provides little footing and is more dangerous. We like a smooth and pleasant life, but in fact, it is a more dangerous climb. Now at the top there is a vision to be had! But to get us there the Lord often has to have us climb and bring us up the rough side of the mountain. This is what it often takes to give us vision.
- The CLARIFICATION – While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Now I have chosen the word clarification to do double duty here. One the one had it refers to brilliant glory shining forth from Christ. Clarus in Latin means “bright” and hence clarification refers to his shining splendor. But I also use the word clarification in the more common English sense which means to make clear. Now notice that Moses and Elijah are present and conversing with the Lord. Moses and Elijah are historical persons to be sure but they also represent the Law and the Prophets. In other words they represent Scripture. Part of what the Lord needs to do for us to give us heavenly vision is to teach us his Word. As we grow in knowledge of Scripture, our vision grows, our understanding deepens, and we see things differently. Immersion in the Scriptures disposes us for heavenly vision. Notice too how Moses and Elijah (personifying Scripture) give the vision for what Christ is about to do in his final journey to Jerusalem. The vision is of a new Exodus. Just as Moses led the ancient people out of slavery in Egypt by the Blood of the Lamb at Passover and the parted waters (baptism) of the Red Sea. So now Jesus would lead his people out (exodus) from slavery to sin by the blood of the Lamb (Jesus is the Lamb of God) and the Baptismal waters flowing from his parted and pierced side. Do you see what Scripture does? It gives us vision. It sheds light on the meaning of our life. Scripture is our story and it shows again and again how God can make a way out of no way, that He can do any thing but fail. Do you want to see the heavens open and the glory of God be revealed? Then immerse yourself in scripture. Through Scripture God clarifies all things.
- The CONTEMPLATION – Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But he did not know what he was saying. And now comes the vision! Through the difficult climb and suffering, and after being immersed in God’s word, God often grants us this vision. When we see his glory we become fully awake. So great is this glory that they do not know what to say! Those who have every really experienced a glimpse of God’s glory know that the experience cannot be reduced to words. It is ineffable, unsayable, unspeakable! There is an old saying: “Those who know, do not say, Those who say, do not know.” Peter is babbling at this point and thinks to build booths or tents to capture this glory. He probably had in mind the Feast of Booths wherein the Jewish people remembered the great Exodus, the time in the Desert and the giving of the Law. It was one of the great festivals of the year. And hence Peter’s suggestion is a way of saying, “Let’s celebrate this!” “Let’s extend the time in a week-long feast!” But Peter needs to understand that this is but a brief glimpse. There are still troubles ahead and another mountain to climb (Golgotha). But for now the vision is wonderful. So to for us who are privileged to get a glimpse of glory. It does not mean we are fully in heaven yet. For us too there are other mountains to climb, valleys to cross. But oh the glimpse of glory, do not forget it. Let it sustain you in difficult times and it must have sustained Jesus in his passion.
- The COMMAND – While [Peter] was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” – And now comes the great glory cloud (the shekinah) that overshadows them. This vision has been wonderful but God has more than bright lights to show them. The vision he confers gives direction as well as light. His direction is clear: “Listen to my Son.” Not only does this instruction complete the vision but it also ensures greater visionin the future. If we obey Jesus Christ, we will see greater and greater things (Jn 1:50). If we follow him he will lead us to the light and we will see all things by it. But note this, where Jesus leads is not always easy. In order to obey the Father’s command that they listen to Jesus, they are going to have to accept Christ’s instruction that they follow him to Jerusalem and the cross. Only in this way will they see all things by the light of Easter glory.
Do you want to see? Then be willing to make the climb with Jesus. He gives vision if we climb. He gives vision if we are immersed in his Word, which is Scripture and Church Teaching. But his greatest vision lies ahead if we but take up our cross and follow him through his passion death and resurrection. Happy feast of the Transfiguration. May God grant us vision.