When we come to the last Sunday before Lent, we celebrate each year the glorious Transfiguration of Christ, an event so beautiful and so moving that the Church provides two occasions in the year on which to recall and bathe in its light.
The Transfiguration is, of course, firstly a revelation of Christ’s divinity—the final one we celebrate in the season after the Epiphany. It is also a revelation of what those who love Christ and share in his life will experience. When Christ was transfigured, he revealed momentarily not only his future, resurrected state. The cloud that overshadows Jesus (the Divine darkness of Sinai) overshadows the disciples, as well. The uncreated light that pours forth from Christ falls on the disciples and on the mountain itself. As some icons of the Transfiguration show, the power of this moment is precisely because it is not limited to Christ but flows from him onto and into the world, the people around him.
Because of this, we can understand what St. Paul means in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, when he speaks of God “who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” This light was first shown to us at the Transfiguration, and it is an earnest of a world shot through with that light at the end of the ages. Each Eucharist is, likewise, suffused with this spiritual light. Each saint glows with the light of this grace, and only those who share in Christ’s life and love may perceive it.
Christ’s Transfiguration marks the transition from his preaching ministry in Galilee to his self-offering in Jerusalem. It is a moment of great joy, but also a moment of tragic honesty: the One who is the source of such power, beauty, and awe will have to be arrested, abused, denigrated, and finally killed in order to rescue us from our own horror and delusion. This, too, is a measure of how much we are loved.
With this day, we say farewell to Alleluia. We join Jesus, in our half-hearted and incomplete way, in “setting our face towards Jerusalem,” and walk into the Lenten fast. Calling upon him, we pray for the strength to take up our cross and bear it honestly. But we do this not alone in the dark. We do it with him, in the light of his presence. Sharing in that light, we find the courage to be disciples once more this Lent and beyond.
Collect of the Last Sunday after the Epiphany
O God, who before the passion of your only‑begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.