|The Transfiguration of Christ (1511) Lorenzo Lotto|
Depending upon the date of Easter, the season of Epiphany can vary in length by several weeks. But however long or short it is, the final Sunday in Epiphany always has the ‘Transfiguration’ as its theme. This year the Gospel reading comes from Mark; in the other two years of the cycle it comes from Matthew and Luke. There is, however, an unusual degree of unity in all three accounts. Indeed, the Transfiguration is one of very few episodes in the life of Christ that gets substantial confirmation across the different Gospels.
This is enough to indicate how significant an episode the Evangelists thought it to be, chiefly, no doubt, because of the way it so directly connects Jesus with two highly venerated prophetic figures – Moses and Elijah. One aspect of its meaning, though, lies in a repeated motif – a ‘veil’ that obscures an overwhelmingly bright light.
The reference to a ‘veil’ appears in a number of the readings in the cycle. This year it is to be found in Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians. Paul contrasts those from whom the light of the Gospel is ‘veiled” by “the god of this world”, with believers in whose hearts the Gospel has shone sufficiently “ to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”.
It is a fact that we very easily become devoted to “the god of this world” as pressures of many kinds – internal as well as external – lead us to an all consuming concern with the health, prosperity, success and personal happiness of ourselves, our families and our friends. The season of Lent provides a spiritually vital opportunity for re-orientation in this regard, a chance to remove the veil that prevents us from seeing “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”. Perhaps that is why the lectionary always makes Transfiguration the theme of the Sunday before Lent begins.