The story, interestingly, is told a couple of times in the liturgical calendar, once on the Feast of the Transfiguration in August and once in Lent. And now it’s one of the Luminous mysteries of the Rosary too.
I have a fondness for this moment in the ministry of Christ because it comports well with my experience in trying to follow Christ. I have often gone through various spiritual crises where things become dry as a bone and dark as night. Uncle Screwtape talks about this in a voice strangely like that of John Cleese:
Sooner or later, as I go through a spiritual crisis, what I invariably find is that a moment comes where Christ reveals himself to me in a sort of brief reminder that he is still there, still good, still God. It serves, not to say, “You’ve arrived” but to give me hope to continue on the journey. The Transfiguration is like that. Jesus’ goal is Jerusalem and death followed by Resurrection. But for a brief time he gives Peter, James, and John a glimpse of who he truly is. His face becomes like lightning and his clothes (as Mark, with adorable naivete, puts it) become “whiter than any laundry could make them”. Peter, babbling foolishly, wants to put up tents and just stay there for good.
Nope. The whole point is that they cannot stay. They must be on their way and soon Jesus, his glory again veiled but still fully present, goes back down and into the hurly burly of crowds, work, hostility, and ultimately death.
The idea of Transfiguration as the glimpse of who Jesus really is struck me for several reasons. Of course, there is the obvious point that the apostles get to see him for moment “unveiled.” But there are other things that had never occurred to me as I prayed this mystery of the Rosary on a walk the other day.
So, for instance, Paul is the only other apostle who gets to experience Christ in this form–on the Damascus road. The brilliance of the apparition of Christ blinds him. I don’t know why this unique resurrection appearance is vouchsafed only to Paul, nor why he chose not to veil himself. But I think it’s interesting.
More than this, I am struck by the way Christ’s Transfiguration is profoundly echoed in human experience by the phenomenon of falling in love. There comes that moment where it is very like a veil falling away and you see somebody you may have seen many times before, but you realize with wonder that you are now seeing them as they truly are. You realize that this person is wonderful. Nothing about their looks may have changed, but yet you see them for the first time, robed in splendor. Their clothes may be overalls or nursing scrubs or a sweaty shirt after a long day at the office. But suddenly something has changed and you realize that this person is somebody you never really saw before for the wonder they are. Their very clothes share in their glory. You love the dirt under their fingernails, the grease on their face, the flour in their hair. They are, you realize with amazement, truly being revealed to you in this moment for the first time. And you love them, deeply and truly. You would be a fool not to love them. Everything in your life is henceforth changed by this revelation of them–of the truth of who they are. Everything in your life up to this point was preparation for this revelation.
I think the Transfiguration of Jesus is something like this, but in a major, not a minor key. It is not alien to our experience. It the culmination of our experience.
Something to think about.