|Icon of the Transfiguration|
2 Peter 1:16-21
Psalm 2 or
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 before Lent always has the ‘Transfiguration’ as its theme. Different Bible passages are used in each year of the three year cycle, but they are substantially the same in every year -- directly connecting this strange New Testament episode with Old Testament passages about the prophetic figures who appear in it, Moses and Elijah, as well as the post resurrection testimony of the two great Apostles, Peter and Paul.
The Transfiguration is unique in the Calendar, since it is the only event in the life of Christ that is observed twice – on the traditional ‘Feast of the Transfiguration’ (Aug 6th) and on this Sunday, now widely known as Transfiguration Sunday. This double observation is relatively new, and is not the practice in all denominations. So what is the special relevance of the Transfiguration at this point in the Church's year?
In answering this question it is helpful to draw a distinction between ‘transfiguration’ and ‘transformation’. The former is a matter of appearance, the latter a matter of substance. On the mountain, the disciples come to view Jesus differently because they catch sight of him in the company of two key figures in the history of Israel’s relationship with God. This altered view does not last. When the awestruck disciples open their eyes, Moses and Elijah have disappeared and Jesus is standing alone.
The experience nevertheless plays a crucial role in their future, because it prepares them to encounter, and rejoice in, the transformation of Jesus into the Risen Christ. Between the two experiences, however, lies that agonizing period in which they witness his suffering and death on the Cross. Yet without this, they would be left only with a fleeting glimpse of eternity. And so it is for us. Transfiguration Sunday brings a possibility briefly into view. We need the discipline of Lent and the faithful observance of Holy Week to understand how faith in Christ’s Cross might transform us.