Transfiguration of the Lord, 7 Aug 22
Sermon for the Feast of The Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ – 2022
Even since a small boy at a convent school for poor children I have always loved the Feast of Our Lord`s Transfiguration. For Western Christians the Feast only became celebrated as late as the 11th Century and was only added formally to the Roman Calendar in 1457 and then to celebrate a victory of Christians over Islam in the Battle ofBelgrade. I suppose, as a kid, I was bowled over by imagining the glory of Jesus revealed on that Holy Mountain. But there are so many facets to the story, so much to meditate on, to pray about, to look forward to! We might remind ourselves, however, that Eastern Christians, notably of the Byzantine, Syrian and Coptic Rites had celebrated the Feast from early days when it was known as the Feast of the Metamorphosis of the Lord.
The Vision takes place, so early Christian tradition has it, on Mount Tabor – that sugar loaf of a mountain in Middle Galilee standing up from the great plain. The site itself is spectacular and not least for its wonderful views not to say the hair-raising journey up whether by foot ( a very long and arduous walk) or by taxi or pilgrim mini-bus. The timing, effectively, is the finishing point of the Lord`s ministry in Galilee before His final journey up to Jerusalem for his Triumphal Entry, His teachings in the Temple, the Last Supper, His Betrayal in Gethsemane, His Crucifixion and Resurrection – and it is itself a foretelling of His Glorious Ascension into Heaven where He prepares a place for His followers.
But we witness also Three Trinities:
Jesus in all His Glory – The presence of the Holy Spirit – and the Voice of the Father, “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased 0- listen to Him”.
Jesus with Moses and Elijah from the Old Testament representing the Law and the Prophets of the Old Israel and the first-chosen People of God, discussing what was about to take place with Jesus as He fully fulfils the law and prophets of old.
That earthly trinity of three persons chosen by Jesus, in a particular way from among the Twelve, namely, Peter and James and John. It was these three, uniquely, who were with Jesus at the Miracle of the Raising of Jairus`s daughter and, again. In the Garden of Gethsemane on the night that Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot when the Lord asked them to pray with and for Him but they fell asleep.
We can imagine the apostles being both delighted and over-awed at the sight of Jesus the God-Man in all His glory as we shall see Him at the end of time. Peter, never short of having something to say goes into panic-mode, as though not wanting to let go of this Beatific Vision, says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three dwellings: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” It was at that point that the bright cloud was seen and the Father`s Voice spoke out. Not surprising the apostles were seized with fear, falling face down on the ground! To allay their fears Jesus went over to them, touched them and told them to get up. And, of course, as they stood there they saw Jesus in His usual earthly state with which they were familiar.
There is a tradition that this took place at night and so the glory revealed would have been even more spectacular! The episode is concluded with Jesus telling the three apostles, as they came down the mountain with Him, `Tell no one about the vision until the Son of Man has risen from the dead,`
To put the vision back into context we need to remind ourselves that it was from the time that Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God that Jesus the Master “began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things……and be killed, and on the third day be raised from the dead.” Peter scorns the Lord`s prediction and it does not seem that the others had any idea of what he was speaking of namely that departure from this world that He was to accomplish at Jerusalem.
The vision of the Transfiguration is, if you like, a mightily glorified reflection of what took place some three years earlier when Jesus was baptised in the River Jordan by John the Baptist which was the sign that the Lord`s preaching and teaching ministry was to begin, albeit after forty days of prayer, temptation and preparation in the Wilderness of Judea. As at the Transfiguration God the Holy Trinity was present: Jesus being baptised by John, the Holy Spirit descending as a Dove and the voice of the Father saying “ This is my Son, the Beloved, with Whom I am well pleased”.
Monsignor Rudolph Bandas, one of the advisers on Christian Doctrine at the Second Vatican Council writes:
“In the Transfiguration Christ enjoyed for a short while that glorified state which was to be permanently His after His Resurrection on Easter Sunday. The splendour of His inward divinity and the Beatific Vision of His soul overflowed on His Body, and permeated His garments so that Christ stood before Peter, James, and John in snow-white brightness. The purpose of the Transfiguration was to encourage and strengthen the Apostles who were depressed by their Master`s prediction of His own Passion and Death. The Apostles were made to understand that His redeeming work has two phases: The Cross, and Glory – that we shall be glorified with Him only if we first suffer with Him.”
We should remind ourselves of our calling to be united with Christ in the Heavenly Country in all His glory but that already through God`s grace, not least through our unity with Him in His Body and Blood at the altar, we already share in the dive promise of eternal life.