06Aug 06 August. The Transfiguration of the Lord (Feast)

1st Reading: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14)

Daniel sees the Ancient One giving power to the Son of Man

As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne, his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence. A thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him. The court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.

As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.

Responsorial (Ps 97)

R./: The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth

The Lord is king; let the earth rejoice;
let the many islands be glad.
Clouds and darkness are round about him,
justice and judgment are the foundation of his throne. (R./)

The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his justice,
all peoples see his glory. (R./)

For you indeed are the Lord,
most high over all the earth,
exalted far above all gods. (R./)

2nd Reading: 2 Peter (1:16-19)

The second coming of Christ is a deep truth for his disciples

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. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

Gospel: Mark (9:2-10)

What the apostles saw on the mountain led them to revere Jesus as God’s Beloved Son

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John , and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.


Remembering the bright times

Three people were invited on three separate occasions into privileged moments in the life of Jesus. They were handpicked each time. The three he chose were Peter, James and John. Even though we got no formal invitation ourselves, the Lord won’t mind our being there in spirit, on the mountain of transfiguration. We’ll slip in and stay quietly in the background. We’ll see what the apostles saw, hopefully. And we’ll have the added advantage of observing their reaction. Afterwards, with the help of God and the Gospel of Mark, we’ll draw our own conclusions. It should be interesting, to say the least.

The first occasion was in the home of a synagogue official called Jairus. When Jairus begged Jesus to cure his daughter, she was “desperately sick” (Mk 5:23). Before they got near the house at all, the word came through that she had died. Jairus must have been hurrying Jesus along, wishing the little woman with the running sore had chosen another time for her cure (Mk 5:29). Getting Jesus to the house before his child died was vitally important. To hear that she was already dead, and that they might have been in time to save her must have broken his heart. Jesus had chosen Peter, James and John to go with him. Those three and the father, mother, and himself would be the only people in the dead girl’s room. The details of the scene are startling. He took her by the hand, told her to get up, watched her walk around, then told them to give her something to eat. Life is restoredas if it was the most natural thing in the world. The balance of forces between life and death was changing in that modest little room, and the three disciples were there to see it. It wasn’t a time for levity, but for astonishment.

The second occasion is the Garden of Gethsemane. Again, the only three of his disciples Jesus took with him were Peter, James and John. This time Jesus didn’t know what he was going to do! He was in such a state of terror and distress at the prospect of crucifixion that he was tempted, as never before, to give up on his messianic mission and get out from under the cross. “My soul is sorrowful to the point of death,” he told his disciples (Mk 14:34). “Take this cup away from me,” he begged of “Abba’, his father (Mk 14:36). The acceptance of his father’s will couldn’t have come as easily in practice as it comes in Mark’s prose. “Let it be, as you, not I, would have it”. That “Let it be” had survived the biggest crisis in Our Lord’s life so far and would still have to endure the pitiless searchings of Calvary. Acceptance of the Father’s will, and the suffering it entailed, wouldn’t be easy for the disciples either. They might have slept through his suffering; they wouldn’t be able to sleep through their own. “Stay awake,” was his warning to Peter. “Stay awake and pray not to be put to the test” (Mk 14:3 8).

The third and most astounding occasion was on the Mount of Transfiguration celebrated in today’s feast. If Gethsemane was one of their darkest moments, the Transfiguration was the brightest by far. What frightened the three disciples was the awesome encounter with the unfamiliar. Here was “the Christ” as they’d never seen him before. “Brilliantly white” in a way that couldn’t be “earthly”. Adding to the unearthly and disconcerting nature of the experience was the presence of such illustrious figures as Moses and Elijah, who lived longer than others did in the memory of their people, but who, at the same time, had been a long time dead. Their presence must be, in some way, an exaltation of Jesus, an exaltation that reached its zenith and startled them completely when the voice came down from heaven. “This is my Son, the beloved. Listen to him”. If astonished glances were exchanged after the raising of Jairus’s daughter, they must have been exchanged again after the Transfiguration of Christ.

What conclusions to draw? Since the raising of Jairus’s daughter and the Transfiguration came before Gethsemane, and since Jesus involved Peter, James and John on all three occasions, he must have meant the earlier events to carry them through his Passion and Crucifixion. When the darkness came over them they’d remember the light. The memory of the transfigured Lord and the risen girl would help them to hold their nerve! They had seen there was something unique about this person, Jesus. The one who could raise the dead, was transfigured in light, and emerged from Gethsemane as he did … Who is he, really? They got some strong hints in the direction of his divinity.

Getting to know him

Sometimes we can work beside someone without really getting to know them; then, one day, something happens which causes them to open up, to begin to let us get closer, and we discover a depth of riches which we didn’t know existed. This morning’s gospel is about an experience like that, where Peter, James and John are able for a moment to see who Jesus really is. For the three apostles, it is an experience of something beyond words: frightening and yet, at the same time, so wonderful that they would wish to prolong it by building three tents – for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Reflecting on the experience, years later, Peter would write: “We had seen his majesty for ourselves. He was honoured and glorified by God the Father, when the Sublime Glory itself spoke to him” (1 Pet 1:17.)

The gospel mentions the whiteness of Jesus’s clothes; Mark says they became “dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them.” Saint Gregory Nazianzen tells us that this whiteness was the Divinity, manifested to the disciples. Traditionally, Moses and Elijah are seen as representing the Law and the Prophets, an interpretation which we find in the preface of today’s, Mass. But Moses and Elijah were also people who had encounters with the Divinity. Both had to cross the desert, fast for forty days, and climb the mountain of God. Moses had prayed to God, “Show me your glory.” When God revealed his back (not his face) to Moses, he placed him in the cleft of the rock, and when he came to Elijah as a gentle breeze, it was at the mouth of the cave. Perhaps these two are present as representing all those who desire to see God’s glory: “When can I enter and see the face of God?” Is. 42:2) What were Moses and Elijah talking about with Jesus? Luke says they were “speaking of his passing which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem” (Lk 9:31), and indeed it was in his Passion that the face of God was to be revealed, as John would later write: “No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (Jn 1:18.)

In the Transfiguration, the Father’s voice is heard, “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.” Gregory Palamas says: “The Father by his voice bore witness to his Beloved Son; the Holy Spirit, shining with him in the bright cloud, showed that the Son along with the Father has the light, which is one, like all that belongs to their richness.” Just as at the Baptism of Jesus, so also at the Transfiguration, the heavens are opened and we receive a glimpse of the inner life of the Trinity. Jesus is revealed as Son of the Father, who speaks from the cloud of Divine Presence, where the Spirit dwells.

The three who would later see Jesus prostrate in agony in Gethsemane were given this glimpse of who he really is, to strengthen them for what lay ahead, and also to help them to understand what is revealed in the Passion. John says in the Prologue, “we saw his glory;” is he referring to the Transfiguration or to the Crucifixion, to Tabor or to Calvary? Or is there a sense in which these two mountains are one? Was their experience on Mount Tabor for them a preview of Calvary, a deeper vision of the reality of the Crucifixion event?

The Transfigured Christ

Chris McDonnell CT August 3rd 2018

During this Summer month of August it is time to remember that this week is marked by two significant dates from 1945, the first war-time use of atomic weapons, on the city of Hiroshima on August 6th and then, three days later, on August 9th, on Nagasaki. The loss of life and the dawn of the availability of weapons of mass destruction were marked by those fateful August days. If you look back to the old Roman Missal and read the Introit for the Mass of the Transfiguration on August 6th you will find this text, taken from Psalm 76.

“All the world shone with thy lightning and the troubled earth shook ”.

There is something disconcerting and prophetic in those few words. The argument that this action ultimately saved lives and brought the war to a rapid conclusion is challenged more and more.

There are times in all our lives when an event is transformative, when something happens that makes a difference; there is a step-change and the person we were before is radically different from the person we become. There is no going back.

It might be meeting someone by chance and experiencing a significant chain of events that follow. For a mother, the birth of her first child, for a child the loss of a parent, for two adults, the break-up of a marriage with all the distrust and feelings of betrayal that are involved. Or it might be the precious moment when we realised there is a vocation path that we must follow and the joy of becoming who we presently are, remains over subsequent years. Each one of us could identify some such turning point, some significant occasion in our lives, and the older we are, the more times it might have happened.

Of all the events recorded in the Gospels, the account of Peter, James and John with the Lord on Mount Tabor, just west of the Sea of Galilee, given to us by Matthew, stirs the imagination. There, on that rocky outcrop, the appearance of the man from Nazareth was transformed and momentarily his three companions were dazzled by the event and covered their faces. Something of the glory and radiance of God was revealed to them, however briefly. Did they understand its significance? I doubt it. Did it affect their lives and their perception of the nature of Jesus? Most certainly it did. That moment in time was linked with an event that was yet to happen, the Resurrection of the Lord after his crucifixion at Passover. “Don’t tell anyone just yet”, they were told, the significance of such an event would be lost on those who had yet to walk the journey that led to it.

Richard Rohr argues in his book “Falling Upward” that the consequences of the first part of our lives are only realised in the experience of the later years, that those years are, in a significant manner, a completion and an understanding of earlier times. He writes: “The language of the first half of life and the language of the second half of life are almost two different vocabularies, known only to those who have been in both of them”.

Just now and then, we too are transformed, transfigured even, and the dwelling of God in us is allowed to shine through. Others see it, and are grateful for our being alongside them. Others feel it, in the gentleness of our touch or the carefulness of our hug. Others value it when we truly listen to their words of joy or pain and share with them times of great personal happiness or the darkness of desolation.

Creative artists show us vision, in the transformation of materials, whether it is through paint on canvas, the chiselling of a block of marble or the exploration of a block of wood. In each form there is something to be found, some delight to give joy, something to make us think.

In 1961, Barbara Hepworth wrote “I, the sculptor, am the landscape, I am the form and I am the hollow, the thrust and the contour.”

What, I wonder, was the block of stone like before her hands began their imaginative transformation of the material?

So in recognising the enormity of that occasion on the hill of Tabor and its significance in the lives of three followers of Jesus, in faith, may we follow their example.

A beautiful hymn written by John Bell, a member of the Iona Community in Glasgow called “A Touching Place”, has this refrain after each verse:

 “To the lost Christ shows his face;
to the unloved He gives His embrace;
to those who cry in pain or disgrace,
Christ, makes, with His friends, a touching place”

 Let’s leave it there.

3 Responses

  1. Brian Fahy

    My father was in the last year of his life and I had driven up from Canterbury to visit home. Usually I found my father in his fireside chair engrossed in his horses but not this time. This time, as I got out of the car, my father was standing in the open doorway with a smile on his face and as I approached he put out his hand to me and said, ‘Welcome, King of Diamonds!’ This greeting transfigured me. Just like Jesus at the Jordan and on the holy mountain I had heard the words that said, ‘This is my beloved son!’

    Love transfigures us and it open our eyes to see the beauty in everyone and calls us to name it and to embrace it. My heart always lifted every time I saw the sanctuary lamp in church, a lamp shining in a dark place. It told me that love dwells here. The words of Saint Peter too have always strengthened me. I tell you no lie, he says. We saw his glory on the holy mountain.

    My faith has always been strengthened by this testimony and it is our faith that calls us to transfigure the world by our love for one another. Welcome, King of Diamonds!

  2. Lawrence Byrne C.P

    Thank you Chris for a very insightful and thought provoking contribution. From one of your former students at Milltown many years ago.

  3. Chris McDonnell

    Thanks for your comment Lawrence. Sorry to disappoint you, but having spent my days teaching in the UK, you must be confusing me with another! Pleased you liked the words anyway. Go well Chris

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