The Transfiguration

Year A 2017
6 August
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

Today’s feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord celebrates an extraordinary event in the life of Jesus and in the lives of the three disciples who witnessed it. For Jesus, the transfiguration was an affirmation of his Father’s love and a foretaste of his glory.
For Peter, James and John, the transfiguration was a vivid revelation, a preview, of Jesus’s full identity; fully human and fully divine. While the three of them knew and loved Jesus, the carpenter from Galilee, in the transfiguration they got a glimpse of his divinity; Jesus, the Son of God, Jesus the Messiah, the completion of the Law (represented by Moses) and the prophets (represented by Elijah).

Jesus in the mystery of the Holy Trinity; the voice of the Father, the transfigured Son and the Holy Spirit brilliantly animated in the clouds and the light as bright as the sun.

An awesome experience beyond description; impossible to describe adequately. How can one describe an encounter with God? The three of them must have been frightened out of their wits and shaken right out of their sandals.

The transfiguration took place about a week after Jesus had spoken to his disciples for the first time about his pending suffering, death and resurrection. And you’ll recall that to Peter the whole idea of Jesus dying was unthinkable and he’d protested strongly; and Jesus had rebuked him sternly rejecting the temptation that Peter presented to him to walk away from the cross “Get behind me Satin.” This rebuke must have come as a real shock to Peter and bruised his ego and his relationship with Jesus.

The transfiguration, coming just days after this misunderstanding, was surely a turning point in Peter’s understanding of Jesus; Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.

In today’s Second Reading Peter recalls his experience of the transfiguration to remind the early Christians that he stands as a personal witness to Jesus’s majesty and divinity.

In the law in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 19:15) three witnesses are required to attest to the truth. The truth of the transfiguration was witnessed by Peter, James and John.

All of us believe in an intellectual way that God is with us. But sometimes we wish for a mountain-top experience to make that intellectual belief a tangible reality in our lives. Often God’s presence is not obvious to us in the cruel, corrupt world in which we live and in the everyday challenges of our lives.

We might wish that we could have an experience like the transfiguration. Wish that God would appear to us in a way that could not be mistaken for anything else; preferably an encounter that we would share with other witnesses who could vouch for this truth.

Perhaps then we’d find it easier to love God and love our neighbour; easier to be faithful disciples.

Well it didn’t work that way for Peter, James, and John. This experience on the mountain didn’t take away the ambition of James and John to be singled out for special treatment. They wanted a distinctive place kept for them in God’s kingdom (Matthew 20:20). The transfiguration didn’t take away their selfish pride and hunger for recognition. Or their doubt. They deserted Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and left him to die.

We know about Peter.

Even the transfiguration didn’t heal his doubt. He cowered in fear when Jesus was arrested and then publicly professed that he didn’t know the man.

Even the sight of the resurrected Jesus was not a fool proof experience for some of Jesus’ followers. Matthew tells us in chapter 28 that after the crucifixion “The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.”

As much as we might wish for a dramatic display of God’s power and presence we’re not likely to receive one. We build our faith on the testimony of those who witnessed the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and on the witness and evidence of God’s presence in our lives and the lives of the many saints who have gone before us; the Presence of Jesus among us and within us.

Most of us have had an experience of the presence of God.

An experience that we can’t adequately describe or explain but one which has left us with no doubt that we have encountered something beautiful that’s out of this world.

Perhaps in prayer or meditation we’ve been overcome with a sense of joy and peace.

Or perhaps the sudden recognition of the majesty of creation in a sunrise or sunset or star lit night that leaves us speechless.

Perhaps an exquisite piece of music or art that takes our breath away.

Perhaps a look or gesture of love from a child or someone we’ve touched with our kindness and compassion.

Perhaps the overwhelming awareness of God’s forgiveness in the words of absolute in the sacrament of reconciliation.

Or perhaps just the sheer happiness of being alive and knowing that we are God’s beloved; an unexpected feeling of certainty that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Often these experiences happen when we least expect them.

But we’re come here specifically to encounter our Lord.

Are we not blessed indeed to have the Presence of Christ available to us in the Eucharist in the Mass? Let us never undervalue the magnitude and magnificence of this great Sacrament of the altar. This is the same Jesus that Peter, John and James encountered in the Transfiguration.

It’s not necessary to climb a mountain to experience the presence of God.

All we have to do is be attentive so that we don’t miss the time and place when God wants to enter more deeply into our lives.

eeply into our lives.

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