August 18, 2009

The Transfiguration

The Glory of Christ.

Four important scenes of our Lord’s life took place on mountains. On one, He preached His famous Sermon on the Mount; on the second, he showed His glory as God; on the third, He offered Himself in death for our sins; on the fourth, He ascended into Heaven.

Today we shall discuss the second mountain-top experience of our Lord: His transfiguration on Mt. Tabor.

What is the Transfiguration? One day Jesus and three of His disciples, Peter, James and John, went to the peak of Mt. Tabor. There an amazing change came over Christ as He prayed. The Gospel writers seem to be at a loss for words to describe fully what happened. St. Matthew says:

"And His face did shine as the sun, and His clothes were white as the light."

St. Mark reports:

"And His garments became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them."

St. Luke writes excitedly:

"The appearance of His countenance was altered, and His clothes became dazzling white."

What the apostles noticed as particularly beautiful and glorified were His face and His garments — the face which later would be splattered with blood flowing from a crown of thorns, and the garments which would be a robe of scorn with which sneering Herod would dress Him.

It was only a small ray of Christ’s divine glory that the Apostles saw on Mt. Tabor. Still human language could not do justice to it. How can man fully describe the glory of God? There is nothing on earth to be compared to it. The only expressions the Gospels writers could use were: "whiter than snow… brighter than the sun."

Do you remember how Moses looked when he came down from the holy mountain after speaking with God? So brightly did his face shine that he had to cover it with a veil because the children of Israel were blinded by it. But the light in the face of Moses was a reflected glory. Do you remember how St. Stephen looked as he defended his preaching and miracles before the council members? We are told, they looked at him and saw his face as though it had been the face of an angel; but that too was a reflected glory. The radiance of Christ on the mountain was His very own. The divine glory of Christ did not suddenly come over Him as though God had turned a great spotlight on Him. That glory had always been there. Now it was simply shining through. For this brief moment Jesus removed the veil of His humanity to permit His disciples to see a small part of His glory as God.

St. Luke tells us that the Transfiguration took place while Jesus was praying. Is it not in periods of prayer that we are most likely to witness the glory of God? Is it not prayer that produces an inner change in man which becomes reflected in a transfigured life?

As the Transfigured Christ stood there shining in glory, two men stepped out of the past: Moses, the venerable law-giver, and Elijah, the zealous prophet. They stood there talking with Jesus about His impending death at Jerusalem: "And two men appeared conversing with Him,

Moses and Elijah, seen now in glory; And they spoke of the Death which He was to achieve at Jerusalem" Luke 9:30-31.

Why Moses? Why Elijah? Moses represents the Law; Elijah the prophets. The two appear to confirm Christ as the Promised Messiah, to prove to the Jewish race and to mankind that in Christ we find the fulfillment of the Old Testament law and prophets; in Christ we have the Son of God, who gave the Law and sent the Prophets.

Moses and Elijah had been dead thousands of years. Yet they appeared, very much alive and talking with Jesus, on Mt. Tabor. Is not this proof of the fact that God can and will resurrect the dead? As He has promised, "Marvel not at this, the hour is coming when all who are in the graves shall hear His voice and shall come forth; those who have done good, unto the resurrection of life; those who have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation."

So taken up was Peter with the beauty of the transfiguration that he suggested that they stay there always:

"Peter said to Jesus, Master

It is well that we should be here;

Let us make three cabins in this place,

One for Thee, and one for Moses,

And one for Elijah" (Luke 9:33-34).

While the apostles were standing at what seemed to be the very vestibule of heaven, a bright cloud, symbolizing the presence of God, the Father, suddenly passed over them. In reverence and amazement they listened as a voice spoke to them out of the cloud, words of eternal significance, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased, hear Him."

"Hear Him!" There are many people, myriads of teachers and countless voices clamoring for our attention, yet to only one of these voices does God command us to listen: to the voice of His Son Jesus Christ. "This is my beloved Son..." Our whole purpose in life is to listen to the voice of God’s teaching, obey His commandments and become Christ-like.

When Moses and Elijah appeared with Christ, they were also transfigured; in Christ’s presence they too shone in glory. We have God’s promise that every true believer in Jesus will be transfigured and will share in Christ’s glory, as did Moses and Elijah.

"We shall be like Him; for we shall see him as He is" (I John 3:2).

"The glory which Thou has given me, I have given them" (John 17:22).

"Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory" (John 17:24).

"This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased; hear him!" Learn of Him. Obey Him. Become like Him. And eventually you too will be transfigured to shine with Him in a glory which the Gospel writers could only describe as "whiter than snow … brighter than the sun" and which St. Paul describes with the words, "Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it ever entered the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love Him."

Sermon by Fr. Anthony M. Coniaris
"Gems from the Sunday and Feasts Gospels"

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