Christ Jesus, the brightness of the Father and the image of His substance, upholding all things by the word of His power, effecting man’s purgation from sin, has deigned to appear this day in glory on a high mountain.
The Church celebrates the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. It is one of two times in the liturgical year that the gospel tells the narrative of the Lord’s being transfigured. The other time we hear the narrative of the Transfiguration is in Lent. The Franciscans built a church to mark the sight of the Transfiguration and the oldest monastery in Sinai, Saint Catherine’s (an Orthodox monastery), has an ancient mosaic dedicated to this feast. As point of ecclesial comparison, the Orthodox Church observes today also as a significant feast of the Lord. Hence, the commonality of liturgical observances gives witness to a Christian reality.
Today’s feast is a twofold reminder of the Lord’s victory over death and the promise of the resurrection. You will recall that the one of the witnesses to this vision is Peter, and this vision of the Lord’s glory happens after Peter’s confession of who Jesus is and his belief in Jesus’ messiahship. A very bold claim to make, indeed. One might say that the vision portrayed in the gospel today is a reward for faith, hope and love in the Lord’s proclamation of the Kingdom. It also foreshadows the Lord’s passion and death on Calvary. This event is preparatory for that great event on what we now call Good Friday and Easter Sunday. All the synoptics record the Transfiguration.
Rafael’s beautiful painting is an enduring testament of the apostolic vision on Mount Tabor. The upper part of the painting is that of Jesus with Peter, James and John. The lower section relates the Lord’s curing of a possessed child. It is said that Rafael was commissioned to paint the Transfiguration to celebrate the Christian triumph over the Muslims and to state in no uncertain terms what Christians believe: Jesus as the divine physician overcomes death of the body and in doing so gives us glory in the resurrection. The addition of the child’s cure demonstrates for us this fact: that the Lord restores to life a sick child, thus conquering sickness and death.
In this way the Lord’s Transfiguration fulfills what was told by the prophet Elijah and Moses who spoke of future glory.
What Rafael does for us is to invite us into the Lord’s promise of immortality. He shows us that the Lord is preparing us to enter into the destiny that God the Father offered to us: communion with Himself.
O God, Who in the glorious Transfiguration of Thine only-begotten Son did confirm the mysteries of the faith by the testimonies of the fathers, and Who by Thy voice from the shining cloud did in a wondrous manner foreshadow the perfect adoption of sons, make us in Thy loving-kindness, we beseech Thee, co-heirs with Him Who is the King of glory and in that very glory call us one day to share.