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The Significance of the Transfiguration

Posted by Dan Kroger, OFM on 1/31/17 7:00 AM

The Transfiguration of Christ by Carl Heinrich BlochIn the ninth chapter of Luke's Gospel, Jesus foretells his suffering and death (9:22), and then warns all who would be followers about the cost of discipleship--"If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (9:23). Then he describes what it means to follow him.

Luke 9:28-36 describes a great event of revelation—the Transfiguration. Eight days later, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John with him as he goes up the mountain to pray. While he was praying, Jesus’ facial appearance changed and his clothing became dazzling white. Then Moses and Elijah appeared in glory and spoke of the exodus that Jesus would accomplish in Jerusalem.

The three apostles were overcome with sleep, but when they awoke and saw Jesus with Moses and Eliljah, Peter said, “Master it is good that we are here: let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

That was when a cloud came and overshadowed them. They became frightened as they entered the cloud and heard a voice saying: “This is my chosen son; listen to him.” Suddenly, they saw Jesus alone. Luke says, “They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen” (9:36).

This event we call the transfiguration was highly significant in the life of the Church and in the whole history of Christian faith. Aquinas called it the “greatest miracle” because it revealed the hidden divinity of Christ before his passion and death. Indeed, Christian teaching over the centuries saw the setting on the mountain as the meeting of our human nature with God. 

Indeed, in all the Scriptures, mountains are often portrayed as the sacred place where humans could meet God. Think of Moses on Mt. Sinai, Elijah on Mt. Horeb, or St. Francis on Mt. Laverna.

Read more about the Feast of the Transfiguration

But it is not just apostles, prophets and mystics who meet God. I believe that all of us can also meet God in our times of prayer. Reflecting on this feast led me to recall some times when I have encountered signs of God present in prayer.

There was a Sunday in the 1970s when I went to visit my mother. (I was teaching at Roger Bacon High School in Cincinnati at the time). When I reached home, nobody was there. I entered the house, figuring mom would return before too long, since we had agreed to go out for supper.

Sure enough, mom showed up. When I asked where she had been, she said she had been “in heaven.”

She used that phrase to describe some deep experience of God’s presence in prayer at church during 40 Hours Adoration. We were conversing about her experience when the phone interrupted us. It was my brother and his wife reminding us we were supposed to meet them at a local restaurant in 10 minutes. Mom and I hustled to get there.

Similar things were reported to me over the years during spiritual direction sessions and at some retreat conferences. I personally experienced what I believe to be the strong presence of God in my own life during times of personal prayer and reflection on situations that I faced as a pastor and as a minister to my own brothers.

These prayer experiences always gave me strength to face difficulties, sickness, and personal danger.

I would venture that many of you who take time to read this blog have had similar times when God’s presence seemed so tangible, so real, that it somehow transformed you. Cherish these mysteries of God's presence which call forth the best in us.

I encourage all readers to take time to enter into silence, the cloud where the divine touches our humanity.

Looking for more Biblical inspiration? Please click the image below to read a sample from Walter Brueggeman's The Bible Makes Sense.

The Bible Makes Sense by Walter Brueggemann

Topics: Bible, biblical inspiration, new testament, transfiguration