Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Transfiguration

The Transfiguration by Giovanno Lanfranco

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. --Luke 9: 28-36
That's how Luke reports the Transfiguration, the moment when Peter, John and James see Jesus standing with the up-to-now known authorities and most-revered prophets. Here's how Mark's gospel describes the scene:
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. Then they asked him, ‘Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ He said to them, ‘Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him.’ --Mark 9:2-13
It's interesting to me to think about this scene, especially as Mark recounts it. In Luke, the disciples seem to instinctively know not to say what they'd seen. In Mark, again, Jesus is reminding them not to take out an ad letting everybody know, "I saw Jesus with Moses and Elijah!" Also, as they discuss the return of the most mysterious Elijah, and the raising of the dead, there is the direct understanding that Jesus is foreshadowing his own future for the disciples... leaving them totally baffled. But there is a further understanding of "Son of Man" as not just Jesus but also an individual, or humanity. For me, this makes me think of how one becomes transformed, or transfigured, in spirit as one comes into relationship with God. It's not a sunny skies with rainbows and fluffy bunnies transformation. It can be a rocky, troublesome road as one strips away the "things" of the life they'd had to the life they are entering. I don't mean this to say that there is a 180-degree turnabout... and you become a completely different person. I s'pose that can happen. But from my experience, it feels more like the shedding of skin and the growing more fully into one's self. "Bigger and brighter", you might say.
I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together.
I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant;
so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord,
and was saved from every trouble.
The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good;
happy are those who take refuge in him.
Psalm 34: 1-8

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