Icon of the Transfiguration
Church of St. James, Omaha, Nebraska
Fr. Richard Reiser, iconographer
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.
(from 2 Peter 1)
The Sunday before Holy Lent commences always tells the story of Our Lord’s Transfiguration. It was after this mysterious showing-forth of Jesus’ nature as Son of God that he “set his face toward Jerusalem” as St. Luke says, making his final assent to the Holy City and the place where he would show forth his nature in another way upon the Cross.
The light of the Transfiguration shines brightly into the hearts of all who have received Christ, but to those who have never known him, fear, anxiety, and discomfort can arise. Even for those who call themselves ‘Christian,’ this event can be unsettling, if they have begun to make peace with the world “as it is.” For this light is not of the world; it is a divine light, and challenges all of our earthly expectations and assumptions.
Christ is more than we knew
The Transfiguration challenged even those innermost disciples as to their understanding of Jesus. In this encounter, he is revealed to be beyond their conceptions or personal experience. This sets up a dynamic for all Christian life and practice: knowing Christ is not a way of capturing or defining him, conforming him to our point of view or ideology. To know Christ is to enter into the life and will of the Father, and this means an inexhaustible flow of knowledge and love. The Christian must not settle for anything less than this type of relationship with Christ. Turning him into a guru, a political, or ideological “celebrity” inevitably means turning him into a mirror of our own incomplete being. The Transfiguration means, among other things, an end to the search for a “lesser” Christ—one of our own making or determination. This is why the Creeds do not attempt to “define” Christ beyond the most basic essentials.
The Creation is Holy
When Christ is Transfigured on the Holy Mountain, all created matter is revealed to be holy. This event does not occur in a purely “mental” or “spiritual” manner: it involves physical reality in the person of Jesus’ body, in the darkness, cloud, sounds, place (mountain, sky), physical presence of the witnesses, the past (in the persons of Moses and Elijah), and eternity (the voice of the Father). There is no bifurcation of reality into “spiritual” and “physical” categories: all is revealed to be one in Christ. This is an essential message of the Church in the world today. The creation was made in holiness and suffers now because of our rejection of this fundamental unity, and by our attempt to abstract ourselves out of creation, making ourselves little gods above and apart. God himself partakes of the creation in his Son, and by illuminating all with the uncreated light of Transfiguration, God gives us a foretaste of the restoration of that unity in Christ.
Christian Worship participates in the Transfiguration
Just as all Eucharists are a proclamation of the Resurrection, so all Eucharists are a participation in the Transfiguration, in that the Holy Mysteries are a showing forth of the transformative character of God’s love and presence in the world. As Christ took only his innermost disciples to the mountain, so the Eucharist is not something that can be “understood” by just anyone: it speaks with the language of a pre-existing relationship to those who have chosen to follow the Way of Christ. The Eucharist nourishes the members of Christ’s Body, the Church, in the mystery of his redemptive power and mission, neither exhausting its meaning nor holding the disciple at arm’s length. In the Eucharist, those who have received the Holy Spirit in Baptism are revealed to be participants in the light of the Transfiguration as they share in the Holy Scriptures, the priestly work of God’s people, and the Holy Mysteries of Christ. Strengthened in the Mission of God through worship, we may then take up our cross, “set our face” toward our own vocation in living out the Gospel, and follow Our Lord in his strength and by his light. Amen.