Tuesday, February 21, 2017


Transfiguration - Carl Bloch
Depending upon the date of Easter, the season of Epiphany can vary in length. Easter being late this year, Epiphany is three weeks longer than last. But regardless of length, the final Sunday in Epiphany always has the ‘Transfiguration’ as its theme. This year the Gospel reading comes from Matthew; in the other two years of the cycle it comes from Mark and Luke. But there is 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 different Gospels. In all three, a key connection  between Jesus and two highly venerated prophetic figures – Moses and Elijah -- is revealed to the disciples. It is the connection with Moses that this year's Old Testament lesson picks up, recounting from Exodus the episode in which Moses is given the tablets of  law.
Raphael's Studies for the Transfiguration
The prophetic connection lends the event much of its significance. For the first time, perhaps, the disciples accompanying Jesus understand his uniqueness among the multitude of other ‘teachers’ of the law that were a common sight in Palestine.  And this is powerfully confirmed by a second feature all three accounts share -- the reference to dazzling light, a sign that the revelation that has been given to them is of divine origin. On the top of Mount Sinai, Moses alone experiences the fire-like glory of God, but when he descends with the Ten Commandments, the resulting light that shines from his face is unbearable to those who witness it. So too, it is dazzling light that transfigures Jesus in the eyes of Peter, James and John.
There is one point, however, on which the accounts differ slightly. Luke tells us that the disciples resolved not to tell anyone about what happened on the mountain top. Like Mark, but even more emphatically, Matthew is clear that Jesus ordered them “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” From this we may infer that ‘transfiguration’ in the eyes of his followers is at best preparation for what really matters – the transformation of death to life in the Resurrection. The passage from the second Epistle of Peter puts the point effectively. “You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” Holding on to this thought gives the approaching season of Lent a special coherence.

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