Scripture Readings: Genesis 22:1-18; Romans 8:31-34; Mark 9:2-10
I like to call the first Sunday of Lent, “Christ in the Desert Sunday,” for its emphasis on the mystery of our Lord’s temptations in the solitude of the Judean desert, and I like to call the second Sunday of Lent “Transfiguration Sunday,” for its focus on that great mystery in the life of Christ and its effect on his apostles Peter, James and John. These three apostles witnessed the Transfiguration on the mountain and were chosen to tell others, including us, what took place and what it is to mean for the building up of our faith.
We celebrate a specific “Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord” each year on August 6th in the liturgical calendar of the Church, so we are really given two opportunities in the course of the year to ponder the great “vision of glory,” as the Transfiguration is sometimes called.
The Transfiguration Christ, believed to have occurred on Mount Tabor, though scripture does not tell us precisely which mountain, was an event that left the apostles deeply moved for its clear revelation of the divinity of Christ as they were being prepared to face the scandal of their Lord being betrayed and undergoing his passion and death. The apostles clearly needed fortification to face the events soon to come.
Scripture tells us that while Jesus was praying in solitude on the mountain the appearance of his face changed and his clothing became dazzlingly white. Then there appeared Moses and Elijah conversing with the Lord. They all were arrayed in glory and the experience was something transcending time and space, yet real nonetheless, since all three apostles saw the same thing. Next a cloud overshadowed those present and a voice was heard from heaven saying, “This is my Son, my chosen One. Listen to him.” After that Jesus was there alone once again. How long did it all last? We do not really know. But it obviously had a profound impact on Peter, James and John who never forgot the experience.
What is the significance of this event in the life of Christ and his apostles? There are various meanings, rich in their application. First and foremost is the glimpse and assurance the apostles are given that their Master is indeed more than a mere man, in fact he is the Son of God, and therefore the way, the truth and the life for them and all followers of Christ.
Secondly, the Transfiguration carries with it the conviction that Christ will return in glory, just as he promised, with saving power for all who put their trust in him. Thirdly, the Transfiguration is an encouragement that even though the Lord would undergo rejection and death, that is not the end, but the way to resurrection and bestowal of eternal life on the world.
The appearance of Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration, representing and summing up all of the law and the prophets of the old covenant, are reminders to followers of Christ that the Lord is the fulfillment of all that was taught and prophesied in the past.
In the voice that was heard on the mountaintop, there is a confirmation that Christ indeed came forth from the side of God and would pass through suffering and death, but ultimately rise and ascend to be seated once again and forever at the right hand of the Father.
“Master, how good it is for us to be here,” was the exclamation of Saint Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration. By the way, there used to be a Benedictine monastery on the same mount. The sentiment “how good it is for us to be here,” should be ours as well, with words such as these: How good you have called us into being, Lord, brought us to the Sacrament of Baptism and incorporation into your Mystical Body the Church, and sustained us to this present moment. How good if we have faith and a parish or monastic community to support us with a firm hope that we will all one day share in the bliss of eternal life in heaven in the company of those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and with those who will come after us for this brief sojourn on earth.
The history of humankind is the story of the search for meaning and happiness. It is also the story of trial and error, success and failure, sinfulness and repentance and ultimately forgiveness from God. It is probably the story of each of us individually as well. So often the search for happiness is sought where happiness cannot be found: in wealth and beauty, eternal youth, a giant bank account or a faster car or a bigger garage. In the end none of these in fact satisfy the human heart nor endure for long.
Only faith, hope and love are lasting, and the greatest of these is love, as Scripture tells us. Christ came to teach us and show us that the path of true happiness is found in the way of dispossession, self-forgetfulness, compassion and doing good for others. That was the way of Christ and the road on which he wishes to lead us too.
Christ is our happiness, transfigured in splendor on the mountaintop, but also in washing the feet of his disciples, eating with the poor and sinners, healing the sick and the broken of body, mind and spirit. The same Christ took on the sufferings of the entire world and died for the life of the world, silently but truly transforming the lives of men and women of all times and places, calling us from sin and death to glory and life everlasting.
As Saint Paul expressed it so well: “We have our citizenship in heaven; it is from there that we eagerly await the coming of our savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will give a new form to this lowly body of ours and remake it according to the pattern of his glorified body, by his power to subject everything to himself.”
May we always seek our true happiness in Christ, in the Gospel and in his Church, and may we discover there that which will sustain us in the present and unto life eternal.
In a real and special way, in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist transformation for our lives takes place, by the humble presence of Christ in our midst, in the Sacred Scriptures and under the form of bread and wine, given us as his Body and Blood, soul and divinity.
May the regular celebration of the Eucharist increase our joy and draw us closer to God and one another, renewing our hearts in love and may that be a leaven of transformation for the world in which we live.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB