Mt: 17:1-9

Anne Lastman

As we approach the 6th August, we in the Latin Church celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord.  It’s a great pity that this feast day is not given much more honour as it is in the Eastern rite churches.

For me this feast day is one of the most beautiful feasts.

I remember as a young girl of about 10 years of age, in a convent school, and listening to this story from the bible which Sr. Mary Mechtilde? (Long long ago) read to us in religion class, and having this story read to us and me hearing it for the first time, was the moment of beginning to love scripture.  

This “story” and a little later the Resurrection, and a little later still the Ascension changed something in me and I could hear something other. Until I heard these three stories, I like the rest of the pupils, sat, and listened to “religion” because it was compulsory while thinking about the playground, or something else.

The first lesson of the day was always religion and this came in the form of sister reading either a parable or verse from the bible and we were expected to remember and understand it.  Sister would have nothing else we had to listen and learn and remember.  She assumed we listened and understood what she had read. At that age there was nothing further from the mind of a young person than religion. (No different today).  However, for me the first-time hearing read the story of the transfiguration somehow caught my attention and I listened to it intently.  This was the only story which I have carried with me all my life.  Yes, I did feel the same about the Resurrection and later the Ascension but the transfiguration was what helped me to sit every morning and listen intently to all which sister read to us.

The Transfiguration spoke to me.  I understood it and wanted to understand it more.  We children did not have a bible of our own but I dared to ask sister if I could read the story again from her bible and could I copy it.  A usually grumpy sister seemed pleased that someone wanted to re-read what was read in the morning and further, to make a copy it to read again.  I did this during lunch time. 

Over my many years I have thought about this story many times and have tried to make sense of it still being enchanted by it.  I have read and re-read it too many times to remember.

Days after Peter professed his own declaration of faith, Jesus took Peter, James and John and went to a mountain to pray.  I’ve wondered why he did not take the other apostles but later the answer would come. On the mountain Jesus prayed, and we remember that on a mountain is always a place for a theophany, and on this mountain again we see and experience a theophany with Jesus. During his prayer and dialogue with his father, Jesus changed into one who was out of this world. Was seen in his divine state. The apostles who were present became, we might say, stunned and in awe of the vision they had before them. They saw their Lord, and Master, change into a different being.  The same but different, and here we are reminded of The Road to Emaus where he joined the saddened friends, still the same but different.

The event on the Mountain (It is said that it was Mt Tabor, I have been there and having this story in mind I was just simply silent…nothing could be said. A memory of a story read by sister brought this all back). The story went from slow ascent by four friends, Jesus included, to pray, but then to a change from the earthly, temporary, physical, to one which was unexplainable and still to this day unexplainable and a mystery.  It changed from everything known to the fishermen to one of awe.  There was no possible explanation for the three friends even though they had been with their master and Lord for three years and seen his many works. 

The story of the transfiguration of Jesus on the Mount Tabor, is a story of a gift left to his three main apostles for them to remember this when in the future days they saw what was to come.  

In this pericope Jesus showed his three friends who he was.  His divine nature his divine relationship to the Yahweh God of their own scriptures.  In this short verse they and we encounter the true nature of Jesus. His real identity.  His face shone like the sun, with a heavenly light unknown to physical eyes and his garments became as white as snow and to complete this imagery, the Father was present with His son (for his son at the closest time when his son would call out My God My God why have you forgotten me?)   and the Spirit which flows between the Father and Son was also present.  The Blessed Trinity present to three fishermen who would play a very important role in life after he, the Lord had left them. Further to this, the ancient prophets Moses and Elijah were also present and seen speaking with him.

It is often wondered what they might be speaking to one another about whilst overshadowed by a cloud, the Shekinah.  As I sat on Mt Tabor when I visited, I didn’t pray, indeed I couldn’t pray, I just needed to sit and be filled with the memory of long ago when He was present here not as a human man but in his divinity.

As I thought about the cloud which surrounded Jesus, Moses, and Elijah (but not the apostles) I realized that this was the same cloud which hovered or creation, over Mary of Nazareth, over the Lord at his baptism, and the same voice of the Father which spoke at his baptism saying “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:13-17) and the apostles and us sharing in moments of Trinity.

As I further thought about what might be the discussion between the Lord and Moses and Elijah, I remembered that Moses had been forbidden to see the promised land because of his doubt, He could look towards the promised land (just before his death) from Mt Nebo and see it, but not enter in it.    Jesus, the new promised land was talking with him. Moses could now see who the Law and the prophets spoke about.  Jesus, both human and divine now lifting the veil so that man could see the face of God live? On Mount Sinai, Moses going to receive the ten Mitzvot (Law-covenant), could not see the face of God and live (Ex33:20) but here on Mt Tabor, Moses could see the face of (God-Jesus) and live. For the first time since the Garden where God hid his face from man and sin, man could see the face of God (Jesus) and not die and Lucifer’s lie was reversed “you shall not die” Gen:3:4)

The presence of Elijah spoke of a different time in Israel. A time of decadence. A time of idol worship, of Baals, goddesses, a time when society had turned away from the God who had rescued them but Elijah had remained faithful. To the Jewish people he comes at every Passover, in expectation of the Mashiach. He is the forerunner, who goes before the Mashiach, (as in NT John the Baptist) and when the Mashiach still expected the salutation “next year in Jerusalem” (sung at end of Passover and at the end of Yom Kippur). Elijah a prophet, also saw the promised Mashiach (Jesus) who had come to complete their task, that is to fulfill their promise.

Jesus the new Moses, the new law, and the new Elijah, who no longer needed to be announced because he had arrived, the one to come to remind the people about the God who rescued them and their return to false gods.

The comment of Peter “Lord it is good for us to be here: if you will, let us make three tents one for you one for Moses and one for Elijah” this comment can sound like a confused or even overawed Peter who couldn’t understand what he had just seen but it is also a reminder of “Tent of meeting” of Old Testament, where God and people of Israel met and talked and the place where God gave instructions regarding worship and sacrifice, for the people, and these to be relayed by Moses.  It is i

interesting because the tent of meeting was guarded by Cloud during the day and Pillar of Fire at night, again the Shekinah.  This, the Holy Spirit, who hovered over all the theophonies, including creation and who had accompanied the people throughout their forty years of wandering through the desert.

Peter, who spoke the words asking the Lord should they build a tent for Him, Moses, and Elijah, as a grown man, would have known the Torah verbatim, so in his probably shaken state he would have remembered about Moses and his encounters with God in the “tent of Meeting” just as Jesus, Moses and Elijah were under the tent of meeting in the form of a cloud to discuss matters regarding the people of Israel, the new covenant and the Israel to come. 

The mystery of this story in the Gospels is that it came near the time of the beginning of the passion and death of Jesus and my thought is that Jesus was preparing the three apostles for something very important which was to come and which would horrify them and cause scandal, fear, flight, and doubt, perhaps even loss of belief in him and it was important that there would be three important people who would guide the people during the time of confusion and loss.

Jesus chose to show Himself to Peter, who would be forever, The Rock, (Cephas-Aramaic) on whom the church would be built and governed in his spirit.  James to guide the first Church in Jerusalem and I think perhaps John, who would first take care of the mother of Jesus Miriam, and then to author and guide the later churches.

Of further interest is the fact that in both Old and New Testaments, there are many mountains mentioned and with each mountain someone would be encountered.  Mt Sinai, (Moses) Horeb, ascent upwards, Mt Tabor, ascent upwards to encounter God and Trinity, Calvary raised up high-upwards. (Surrender and accomplishment) The Ascension, rising high (mission accomplished) returning to glory in the form of man. Man could again commune with God because one in his   form of man was present). The powerful burst of energy at the Resurrection, raising high from death. Standing on the mountain of sin of the world, in the river Jordan, after being washed, as Jesus rose, he heard his Father’s voice acknowledging him, as his beloved, son whom He loved and was well pleased with him. There is always a rising high from sin. All theophonies relate to sin.

Always rising high and on top of the mountain there is God the creator of “Adam” and his Son Jesus, the saviour and redeemer of “Adam” the one who has raised “Adam” again to the top of the mountain to meet His creator.

The Transfiguration has inscribed within it all the story from creation to redemption including showing the glory which God has prepared for his second creation created a little lower than the angels. (Ps 8). This new creation “Adam” to share his glory.