On August the 6th the Church celebrates…
The Transfiguration – a glimpse of Jesus’ future glory
The story is told in Matt. (17:1-9), Mark (9:1-9) and Luke (9:28-36).
It was a time when Jesus’ ministry was popular, when people were seeking him out. But on this day, he made time to take Peter, James and John, his closest disciples, up a high mountain. In the fourth century, Cyrillic of Jerusalem identified it as Mount Tabor (and there is a great church up there today), but others believe it more likely to have been one of the three spurs of Mount Hermon, which rises to about 9,000 feet, and overlooks Caesarea Philippi.
High up on the mountain, Jesus was suddenly transfigured before his friends. His face began to shine as the sun, his garments became white and dazzling. Elijah and Moses, of all people, suddenly appeared, and talked with him. A bright cloud overshadowed the disciples.
Peter was staggered, but, enthusiast that he was – immediately suggested building three tabernacles on that holy place, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. But God’s ‘tabernacling’, God’s dwelling with mankind, does not any longer depend upon building a shrine. It depends on the presence of Jesus, instead. And so a cloud covered them, and a voice spoke out of the cloud, saying that Jesus was his beloved son, whom the disciple should ‘hear’. God’s dwelling with mankind depends upon our listening to Jesus.
Then, just as suddenly, it is all over. What did it mean? Why Moses and Elijah? Well, these two men represent the Law and the Prophets of the Old Covenant, or Old Testament. But now they are handing on the baton, if you like: for both the Law and the Prophets found their true and final fulfilment in Jesus, the Messiah.
Why on top of a mountain? In Exodus we read that Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the sacred covenant from Yahweh in the form of the Ten Commandments. Now Jesus goes up and is told about the ‘sealing’ of the New Covenant, or New Testament of God with man, which will be accomplished by his coming death in Jerusalem.
That day made a lifelong impact on the disciples. Peter mentions it in his second letter, 2 Peter 1:16 – 19 – invariably the reading for this day.
The Eastern Churches have long held the Transfiguration as a feast as important as Christmas, Epiphany, Ascension and Pentecost. But it took a long time for the West to observe the Transfiguration. The feast starts appearing from the 11th and 12th centuries, and the Prayer Book included it among the calendar dates, but there was no liturgical provision for it until the 19th century.