28 About eight days after Jesus said these things, he took Peter, John, and James, and went up on a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes flashed white like lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, were talking with him. 31 They were clothed with heavenly splendor and spoke about Jesus’ departure, which he would achieve in Jerusalem. 32 Peter and those with him were almost overcome by sleep, but they managed to stay awake and saw his glory as well as the two men with him. 33 As the two men were about to leave Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it’s good that we’re here. We should construct three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”–but he didn’t know what he was saying. 34 Peter was still speaking when a cloud overshadowed them. As they entered the cloud, they were overcome with awe. 35 Then a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my chosen one. Listen to him!” 36 Even as the voice spoke, Jesus was found alone. They were speechless and at the time told no one what they had seen. (CEB)
The Transfiguration of the Lord
Today we celebrate the Transfiguration of the Lord. Every Sunday during the season after the Epiphany on January 6 we read texts from Scripture that deal with the revealing or manifesting of God. The Transfiguration of the Lord is the crowning point of the season right before we head into Lent. The ancient Christians revered this day, as we revere it today, because the passages we read in Holy Scripture, for the second and last time, reveal fully and completely Jesus as God, and God as Three-in-One. Jesus revealed himself as God only twice in his life: at his baptism, and at his Transfiguration.
This revelation of Jesus leads us inevitably into Christology and Trinitarian theology: theology about Jesus Christ, and theology about the Christian God in whom we believe. Regarding Jesus, we Christians believe that he has two natures: Jesus is at the same time fully God and fully human. At the Transfiguration the three apostles, Peter, James, and John, saw Jesus resplendent in his divine glory in the presence of two great witnesses who had seen this same glory in the time of the Old Covenant.
The appearance of Jesus’ face changed, and his clothes radiated with whiteness. This light is the light of Jesus’ divinity shining through his person. It is uncreated light rather than created light. The difference is this: God created light. He created the sun, which is our earthly source of light. He created all matter, and it is the transformation of matter which is the source of all known forms of energy and light. The source of light is always matter, such as excited gas particles, or wood, oil, coal, or even the filament of a light bulb that is burned. Incandescence, fluorescence, chemiluminescence, bioluminescence and all other sources of the electromagnetic radiation we call light have their source in matter. It is created light.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, light of light, true God of true God was not created. He is begotten of the Father. He shines upon the mountain with a light which was uncreated. The source of this divine light is God. For a moment upon the mountain the three apostles saw Jesus illumined by a divine Light that shone through his human body. This divine light was transmitted even to earthly matter. The Gospels record that even his clothes became glistening, intensely white, as no one could bleach them.
Moses appears with Jesus personifying the Law, while Elijah comes in the name of the Prophets. Jesus is he who fulfills the Law and the prophets. It is interesting that in Luke we actually get to hear the topic of conversation between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. They speak with Jesus about his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the departure is an obvious reference to Jesus’ death. But, the Greek word translated into English as departure is exodus. Just as in the Exodus from Egypt Moses stretched out his arms and led the people of God through the parted waters of the red sea, enabling them to come out alive on the other side and pass from slavery to freedom; so too Jesus, stretched out his arms on the cross and passed through the gates of death, enabling us to come out alive on the other side so that we might pass from slavery to sin and death to life eternal.
Peter was so astonished to see the glory of God shining through Jesus, and Moses and Elijah standing talking with him that he wanted to prolong the moment. Peter asks to stay forever on the mountain, suggesting that they build tents in order to retain the vision of God for all eternity.
While Peter was busy suggesting that they put God in a bottle, a cloud came and overshadowed them on the mountain; and the disciples were terrified when they entered the cloud. They knew that the cloud represented the presence of God. When God spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai a cloud descended and covered the mountain. When Solomon finished building the Temple in Jerusalem and the ark of the covenant was brought into the Holy of Holies, a cloud filled the room, “And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD” (1 Kings 8:10-11).
The cloud is the Holy Spirit who envelopes and protects the apostles, for without the presence and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, we pitiful human beings cannot contemplate the glory of God. Out of the cloud came the voice of God directed at the three apostles, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” In this way the Trinity is manifested: “The Father speaks, the Son shines in splendor, the Spirit covers with a luminous cloud.”
It is through the Person of Christ that we come to the knowledge of God in three Persons. Jesus Christ is the radiance of the Father, and through him the Holy Spirit acts in the world. When we pray to Christ, he leads us to his Father through the Holy Spirit.
The importance of knowing God as Three-in-One rests in the fact that we are a people created in the image of God. Therefore, until we know the God who created us we will find it difficult to discover true meaning or purpose in life. It’s through this God that we are able to possess life-eternal, for eternal life is to reside at the heart of the Trinity.
One of my favorite stories about the light of God comes from the Russian Orthodox Church (please forgive me if you’ve heard it before). It is a story about a monk named St. Seraphim, and it was recorded by his friend Motovilov. Together these two men were walking through the snow having a discussion about the Christian Faith. When Motovilov asked him about the purpose of the Christian life, the monk St. Seraphim answered that it is the “acquisition of the Holy Spirit.” Not satisfied with the answer, Motovilov persisted, “But what does this mean?” “Look at me,” Seraphim said to him. Then Motovilov turned and saw his friend standing in the snow with his face shining like the sun.
When Moses came down from God’s presence on the mountain of God, which was covered in a cloud, his face glowed with holy brightness. On the mountain of Transfiguration, Christ’s body and garments were radiant with light. The Holy Spirit changes, transfigures, and transforms that which it touches. One day, all of created matter, the whole universe, will be transfigured by the Holy Spirit.
Coal is a black and opaque material. If it is left as it is it cannot become transparent. Yet, if it is exposed to the right conditions it will turn into a diamond. If it is touched by fire, it produces brightness and heat. Yet, the divine fire is infinitely more powerful than this material fire which is merely a pale reflection of the power from on high. What is of the earth remains earthly, and when fire consumes matter it turns to dust and ashes. But the divine fire neither consumes nor destroys. Do you remember the story where Moses kneeled before the burning bush, yet the bush was not consumed by the fire? This fire, the fire of the Holy Spirit, will kindle the whole world. At the last day the entire creation will be permeated and transfigured by divine rays.
If you go into a great cathedral early in the morning you will only see dark and colorless windows. But if you wait patiently for the sun to rise you will look with wonder as the stained glass windows gradually radiate with fire; each one assumes a particular color, just as each one of us will possess a unique brightness (1 Cor. 15:35-58). We are like those stained glass windows: the light which we need in order to acquire our true nature and to give full scope to our personality is the Holy Spirit, who offers Himself constantly to illumine us.
Our task is to make ourselves transparent to this grace, this light; to allow God to work in us and overcome our opaqueness, which is our sinfulness, so that our sinfulness no longer hinders the passage of divine Light into us and through us. Saint John wrote, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope purify themselves, just as he is pure” (1 Jn. 3:2-3).
The answer to the question, “Who is God?” is taken up during the season after Epiphany, and finally answered on this, the last Sunday, the Transfiguration of the Lord. The answer to this unfathomable and divine mystery is that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Divine Trinity, Three-in-One, the Light which enlightens everything. The Light of God is always shining. The question we must ask ourselves is this: “Are we allowing the Light of God to shine through us in ways that transform the world?”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!