The transfiguration is always an interesting reading with many details that each individually tell a subtly different emphasis to that transfiguration of Christ witnessed by those apostles on that mountaintop. It can be the placement of the story within the gospel that gives emphasis to a journey and also a learning curve. It can be the mention of pitching the tents, and the meaning of tents within the Jewish tradition. It can emphasize the epiphany and those words spoken, “this is my beloved Son.” Every detail, and every line of that testament is rich with meaning. Mt 17:1-9
Sometimes it is rewarding to look at that story at its most simple element. It is the Transfiguration of Jesus where the Apostle’s witness Jesus as divine and hear him announced as the Son of God. It is an epiphany. It is interesting to look at that gospel account, and also to look at where that gospel is being proclaimed. It is the gospel reading being proclaimed at Mass during the liturgy of the word. It is also proclaimed half way through the biblical gospel . It is proclaimed on the second Sunday of Lent, a few weeks before the Easter feast. It is proclaimed on a mountain top, after an ascent and before a decent. What makes that interesting is that proclamation can be taken as part of a timeline, it concludes the first half of the liturgy.
Following that part of the liturgy is that liturgy of the Eucharist where bread and wine is transfigured, or more properly the transubstantiation into the body and blood of Christ. In looking at that transfiguration on a mountaintop in the context of the Mass, one can view that event not simply as a historical account but rather as something we also witness within the Mass. We take that journey as the Mass processes from beginning to conclusion, and we can envision those tents through the tabernacle and more importantly within ourselves. We hear those words, “this is my beloved Son” as “behold, the Body of Christ.” This is Jesus who takes away the sins of the world.” Upon reception of communion, we walk with Christ to continue that journey.
In a historical context, the Transfiguration occurs prior to the Passion events. It often is described as an event that builds the faith of the disciples so that they might endure the crucifixion of the LORD. The road they walk is difficult, and it is about to become treacherous. The transfiguration gives them strength, as the transubstantiation of the Eucharist does for us. For an instant they get a glimpse of Christ’s divinity.
The appearance of Moses and Elijah gives the disciples the link to their faith, they serve as witness to this event. It is a reminder of where they have travelled from. The Mass does not simply read from the Gospel of the New Testament, that New Testament is related to the Old. A simple reminder, and the touch of Jesus a reminder that their journey is not yet complete. They have been enlightened and nourished but they must continue their walk. Moses face also glows in the presence of God, he descends with the tablets. Jesus with the Apostles. An important point on a journey, but not the journey’s end.
When the disciples hear “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” they fall prostrate afraid, but Jesus touches them and says “Rise and be not afraid.” And He says tell no one until he is raised from the dead. The touch and the command are common in Jesus healings. Jesus frequently heals those around him, but tells them to tell no one. This time though He tells them to wait until after He is raised from the dead. When do they speak and tell of what they saw? Later Thomas will touch His wounds. Touch is important, it heals.
Lent like Advent is a season of preparation. Both seasons remind us often what we must do to prepare for the LORD. Lent is full of devotionals that we participate in to better prepare ourselves for Easter. Its trio of Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving come quickly to mind. This gospel isn’t so much about what we have to do, but it is about what we have to get through trials. They are the gifts Jesus Christ left us. Like the Apostles and disciples we walk with Christ on a journey, and along that journey Christ has given us gifts to help us along the way. They are his Church, and the successors to the Apostles. They are the scriptures, the gospels. They are the prayers and the sacraments, and they are the Mass. They are the same gifts that guided the Apostles as they walked with the LORD even if they did not always recognize them.
(this is an expanded version of an earlier post)
Second Sunday of Lent