Gospel reading: Luke 9:28-36
Vs. 28 Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up the mountain to pray.
Vs.29 As he prayed, the aspect of his face was changed and his clothing became brilliant as lightning.
Vs.30 Suddenly, there were two men there talking to him: they were Moses and Elijah appearing in glory,
Vs.31 and they were speaking of his passing which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Vs.32 Peter and his companions were heavy with sleep, but they kept awake and saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
Vs.33 As these were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what he was saying.
Vs.34 As he spoke, a cloud came and covered them with shadow; and when they went into the cloud they were afraid.
Vs.35 And a voice came from the cloud saying: “This is my Son, the chosen one, listen to him.”
Vs.36 And after the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. The disciples kept silence and, at that time, told no one what they had seen.
The story of the Transfiguration is normally read on the 2nd Sunday of Lent. This year being an exception in Ireland because it coincides with the feast day of St. Patrick and special readings are given. The gospel of Transfiguration, however, would also do Patrick justice and it may be that some choose to stay with this important Lenten Gospel. As this is Year C we read Luke’s account.
When did this happen? Luke situates this event at a critical moment in the life of Jesus.He has been seeking to deepen his relationship with his disciples, “who do you say I am?” and to prepare them, and himself, for the growing inevitability of his impending rejection, suffering and death that awaits him in Jerusalem- “the son of man must suffer many things”. In Luke’s gospel the transfiguration takes place eight days after those conversations. And it took place while he was at prayer.
Where did this happen? This happened on a mountain, traditionally thought to be Mount Tabor. Mount Tabor is an impressive mountain in Palestine, about 7km east of Nazareth. Mountains are significant in Bible stories. Both Elijah and Moses had privileged mountain top experiences where they encountered God’s presence and were confirmed in their mission.
Who was there? Jesus, Peter, James and John (his close friends). Two key figures in Israel’s history are also there, Moses who represents the Law, and Elijah who represents the Prophets. The father is also present behind the cloud from which he speaks.
Accompanied by Peter, James and John, Jesus took to the mountain. While he was at prayer Jesus and the disciples saw the aspect of his face changing and his clothes becoming brilliant as lightning – his whole being radiant, glowing and glorious. And at the same time two of the giants of Jewish religion, Moses and Elijah appeared. They were confirming for Jesus the difficult road ahead – suffering and death in Jerusalem. Although the disciples were heavy with sleep (perhaps exhausted from the climb) they were shaken out of their drowsiness by what had come over Jesus. They witnessed too the appearance of Moses and Elijah.
Overwhelmed by the depth and splendor of the moment and not wanting it to end ,Peter suggested making three tents – one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. This called to mind the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, a festival commemorating the sojourn in the wilderness on the way to the promised land. On the way to Jerusalem for the feast pilgrims erected temporary shelters “tabernacles” for themselves in memory of the journey of their ancestors.
Then “the cloud” came over them – a sign of the presence of God on the journey through the wilderness – and they were overcome with awe and trepidation. Addressing the disciples, and in case there was still any doubt in their minds, the father confirmed the unique identity and mission of Jesus,“This is my son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.”
The passage concludes with Jesus being “found alone” – the moment of transfiguration has passed and in many ways it is the same Jesus who had travelled up the mountain but in the light of the experience there is now confirmation and clarity about the direction and meaning of what lies ahead. The disciples still have a long way to go to come to terms with what has just happened – “The disciples kept silence and told no one what they had seen.” Subsequent events will help them to appreciate its full meaning.
In the first Reading (Genesis 15:5-12. 17-18) Abram had his own doubts about his mission and about God’s promises. And he too had his own “transfiguration experience.” While in a deep sleep he had a powerful encounter with God hidden behind the “smoking furnace and the firebrand” coming between the two halves of the animals of sacrifice, a “three year old heifer, a three year old goat, a three year old ram, a turtledove and a young pigeon.”Again the voice of the father speaks words of confirmation and reassurance.” To your descendants I give this land, from the wadi of Egypt to the great river.”
In the second reading – letter to the Philippians (3:17 – 4:2), Paul is aware of the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain and sees it sees it as a symbol of the transfiguration of all of God’s children into glorious life at the resurrection
Guidelines for Meditation:
It might be helpful to enter into this passage from the perspective of either Jesus or the disciples.
From the perspective of Jesus:
Can you remember facing a difficult time in your life (or family etc) and you went “up the mountain” with some close friends and in that place of solitude and silence you reflected and prayed for the challenges ahead?
Can you remember a deep experience of the presence of God’s love coming to you in prayer, in nature, through a friend or a family member which transfigured you, filled you with a new radiance, beauty, energy, confidence and courage to face the future. “ the aspect of his face was changed and his clothing became brilliant as lightning”.
Can you remember whether this experience of love put you in touch with significant others from your past whom you were reminded of in that moment – there were two men there …Moses and Elijah?
Can you remember how when the moment of transfiguration passed, you looked the same again, but inwardly the power of transfiguration drove you on? “After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone”.
From the perspective of the disciples:
Can you remember how those beautiful words, “This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him,” were communicated to you:- words of reassurance, affection, belonging and encouragement about another person – family member, friend or some significant person in your life and they transformed your relationship with them and you saw them in a new way.
Can you remember the desire in your heart to make that moment of ‘transfiguration” permanent? To stay there always, “let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah” but you knew you had to go back down the mountain.
Can you remember that it was such a deep experience that would take time to digest and process and that you felt that you just couldn’t talk about it but you knew that one day you would share it with others.
Continuing with the Lectio Journey
Let the prayers of thanksgiving, repentance and petition flow from your meditation – ideally these are expressed in our own words interlaced with words from the passage. (See introduction to Lectio stages.)
Let the rich silence of God’s presence grow and deepen as we journey to a prayer of no words and no images – simple presence to the presence of God. (Contemplative moment – see introduction).
We reflect on our experience of the work of God in the passage and in life until a truth or some truths emerge – new insights into life and love – which can be savoured and celebrated in prayer as they release their life-giving power in us, moulding and shaping our minds and hearts and bearing fruit in our lives. (Wisdom Moment – see introduction