There are certain moments in life where you see everything differently: your awareness shifts and what was ordinary becomes extraordinary. Brides are beautiful on their wedding day. Pregnant women glow. Why? Because love shines through them.
The account of the Transfiguration tells of such a moment of love. In the chapter just before, Jesus told his disciples not to tell anyone he was the Messiah and warns them that his followers would suffer. Then, as was his practice, Jesus withdrew to pray. This time he brought Peter, James and John, the inner circle of disciples, “up a high mountain.” (The height of the mountain may be symbolic language, indicating a spiritual reality, rather than meaning that Jesus and his friends actually hiked up a mountain. The actual location is not certain, both Mt. Tabor and Mt. Hermon are traditional locations.) Peter, James and John share a vision of Jesus talking with Moses (the greatest Hebrew prophet and giver of the law), and Elijah (a Hebrew prophet who spoke for justice). Their vision of Jesus himself changed, and the disciples saw him clad in unearthly white.
Peter, the exuberant disciple who always wanted to jump into things blurted out: “It is good that we are here! We will build three dwellings–one for each of you: you, Moses and Elijah!” The dwellings–booths or tents–connect this story to the Jewish celebration of the Fall harvest–Sukkot–a seven day festival when people lived in booths, prayed and read from the Torah (Leviticus 23:40-43). Any impulse to gather building materials came to a quick halt when the cloud overshadowed them. The disciples heard a voice from the cloud, “This is my son, the Beloved. Listen to him!” And then suddenly, the vision ended and they were alone again with Jesus.
Perhaps the key to this story is that God’s glory which can be both cloud and flame (Exodus 13:21) is in and around Jesus. It is a visionary example of God’s love transfiguring the Beloved–the way a bride is transformed on her wedding day, the way a mother-to-be is transformed as she awaits the birth. The Transfiguration is a moment when identity is changed, we have transformed vision in the light of divine love, and we understand a new reality.
Questions to think about:
- Did the vision of the Transfiguration show a shift in reality, that Jesus somehow changed? Or did the disciples briefly see who Jesus really was?
- Do we try to respond to our vision of the holy by building a box (or a fence) around God?
- Mark’s gospel account includes almost exactly the same words from God at the Baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:11): “This is my son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased. What connections do you see between the two stories?
Activity with children: click here for a Mirroring activity. At the Transfiguration, the disciples saw God reflected in Jesus, and understood he was God’s beloved son. The activity demonstrates how we try to follow Jesus.