Two points about the Transfiguration, our feast today – which in the East and the older tradition was viewed as in some ways the greatest feast of all, the feast of the true identity of Jesus.
First: His face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.
At the Transfiguration, Jesus appears for a moment as who he truly is. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man” (Rev 21:3). “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). “The Word was made flesh and dwelt within us” (John 1:14).
Jesus is true God and true man, the presence of God within man. What does that look like? The Transfiguration is a glimpse. A magnificent glimpse, because God is portrayed as pure light, and Jesus as a man full of that light.
Like the burning bush, his humanity is not destroyed by the all-consuming fire of God’s presence. God’s presence shines out in his humanity.
The word comes to confirm it: “This is my chosen Son.” And yet the Transfiguration itself shows forth what that word means: true God and true man.
As the great simple hymn says, “we hail your body glorified and our redemption see.” One of the desert fathers said, “If you would, you could become all flame.” This is our redemption, this is the promise. Our humanity too will shine forth with the light of God. We will be the temple, the dwelling place of God.
Here on Mount Tabor, for a moment, we get a glimpse.
Praying Morning Prayer for the feast, my children pointed out the parallel to the reading from Revelation in Sunday night prayer: “They shall see the Lord face to face, and bear his name on their foreheads. The night shall be no more. They shall need no light from lamps or the sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever.” We hail your body glorified, and our redemption see. This is the gospel. This is heaven. This what shall be written on our own foreheads.
Second: And when the voice came, Jesus was found alone.
That’s how Luke says it, and that’s our reading this year. It makes even more simple the delicious simplicity of Matthew and Mark: and lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus alone.
St. John Paul II wrote, in his testament for the new millennium, Novo millennio ineunte,
“It is not therefore a matter of inventing a ‘new programme’. The programme already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its centre in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfilment in the heavenly Jerusalem. This is a programme which does not change with shifts of times and cultures, even though it takes account of time and culture for the sake of true dialogue and effective communication. This programme for all times is our programme for the Third Millennium.”
Because all our hope is in Christ, because Christ transfigured is our hope – what we hope to be and the way we hope to reach that hope, the way the truth the life – the heart of the program must be, as John Paul II says, “contemplate the face of Christ.”
That means, too, “Listen to him.” We must let his words, his Word, penetrate us, because no other words, no imaginings, can do anything like justice to the enormous truth of the transfigured Christ. All our ideas fall short of his, of him. We immerse ourselves in his Word because no other words express the wild reality of the Transfiguration. We immerse ourselves in his Word because our whole redemption is to immerse ourselves in the transfigured Christ, the consuming fire and the burning bush.
How do your ideals fall short of the Transfiguration?