Here at the beginning of August, as we finish our vacations and prepare to return to school, the Feast of the Transfiguration arrives. It comes to us amid the ordinariness of summer as a reminder of the glory that God reveals to us in his Son.
Although the Transfiguration has the power, as sacred sign, to speak to us on many levels, there are two levels that it points out most clearly to me, and a third becomes clear after considering the first two. First, from where we reflect upon our experience in life first-hand, the Transfiguration reveals the power of God to make something new of us. It reveals God’s power to re-form our lives beyond simply transforming or changing us. God transfigures us; that is, he makes something entirely new of us, as if starting over from scratch. Thus, on the first level of reflection the Transfiguration is about God's power to mold us into what he would have us be.
However, it is the second level of interpretation—beyond how we relate personally in our day-to-day lives—beyond how we experience the life in the faith, which shows the true significance of what we celebrate on the Feast of the Transfiguration. It is the glory of God bestowed upon his Son that is the primary message. Our celebration today is one that emphasizes the Son revealed in the majesty of his glory. Here in the midst of Ordinary Time we contemplate the transcendent beauty of the Son of God: though it is not an ordinary or mundane event at all.
The scriptures today show us the revelation of Jesus in a way that moves beyond human imagination. They reveal to us a vision of Jesus that is from above. The prophet Daniel looks into the depths of the Holy and sees the throne of God with the Ancient One, the Father, upon it. Everything that one might expect is there to set the tone—“thousands upon thousands and myriads upon myriads” attending, ministering, and worshiping before the iridescent glory of God.
The prophet also sees “one like the Son of man” ascending to heaven on the clouds. Because of my cultural conditioning I think of the vision in terms of a sequel following the Ascension. We recall the disciples looking up to heaven seeing the Lord depart, but here we see the Son arriving and receiving everlasting dominion, glory, and kingship. He shares in the transcendent glory belonging only to God. The movement is from the things of earth to the things of heaven.
There is yet a third level of interpreting the Transfiguration event, one in which the movement is from the things of heaven back to the things of earth. Thus far we have the essentials of what the scriptures tell us today, but there is still the most important thing that the Transfiguration reveals.
At the time of the writing of the Second Epistle of Peter, which we heard today, the Church had yet to formulate its doctrinal statements regarding the person and nature of Jesus Christ, and the significance of his accomplishment for us. However, it had been revealed already to the apostles. Peter, along with James and John, was an eyewitness of the glory of the Transfiguration. The significance of the event had been planted in their hearts when they beheld the Lord in his glory on Mt. Tabor. They later understood that it was the Lord of hosts, the God of Jacob, which was revealed to be in their midst.
Peter writes, “We possess a prophetic message…you will do well to be attentive to it…until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.” Unlike my initial reflection, where I considered the power of God to transfigure humanity, the emphasis in the final analysis is on the majesty and glory of the Son of God being with us and part of our world today. The last analysis differs in that not only does the Transfiguration reveal the power of God at work in us, but it also reveals the very nature of God with us.
What does that mean though? In our world today is there not plenty to cause us to doubt? Specifically, do we not find great crimes perpetrated against peace? Is there not a pervasive attitude that holds the poor in contempt? Do we not still separate and segregate? These are important questions because if it is true that God has revealed eternal majesty in the humanity of Jesus Christ, in our humanity that we share with him, then the responsibility for allowing the transfigured glory to be visible to the world rests upon our willing cooperation. It is our task to allow what has arisen in our hearts to be revealed. Our task is to be peacemakers upon the earth, and to reveal the presence of God in the world today.
The simple truth is that showing the majesty and glory of God means that we are to reveal what God really is. The visions we heard about today are shrouded in the language of religious mystery. Mystery comes about from attempting to express linguistically what one sees when looking in the direction of God. The mystery of God will always transcend our words.
I recently discovered a video circulating on the Internet. Some of you may have seen it—it’s the Team Hoyt video. It pertains to a father and son who compete in triathlons. The video shows the love that a father can have. The Hoyt’s are significantly unlike any other competitors. The big difference is that the son has never taken a step or spoken a word in his life—his father allows him to participate in events by carrying him. A friend commented to me regarding the video, “Now I know what the apostles saw on the day we celebrate this Sunday.”
You see, what it all comes down to is that the majesty and glory of God is synonymous with love. Love is not a merely a conditional or qualitative aspect of living the life in Christ, rather it is the power of God’s being. Love is a commandment, because in loving we imitate the transcendent and ineffable glory of God. Love is eternal: that toward which we are to aim with our entire being. Only love can approximate the inexhaustible glory of God. Love reveals God because God is love. It seems almost too simple, but that's the pure beauty of it.
There remains only one question: what do you suppose we are to do?