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
The Transfiguration is one of the familiar yet mysterious tales of Jesus. He had done a lot of teaching, preaching, and prophesying throughout his ministry. Yet, this is one of the Gospels’ more spectacular and mystical stories.
Jesus had hiked up a mountain to pray, and now, the disciples longed for sleep. And, although they had fallen asleep other times, they stayed awake this time to amazement. Jesus’s face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Two men, identified as Moses and Elijah, were suddenly in conversation with Jesus. The disciples must have been speechless, seeing their beloved rabbi and the two greatest prophets and leaders in Jewish history glowing with God’s glory and power. It was worth staying awake for.
The transfiguration was the visible change in the appearance of Jesus, the facial appearance, and the dazzling white garments. White garments were not unheard of, even in the clothing of workers and itinerants. Still, in a hot, dusty climate where the garments were worn daily for more than a day between washings, the white would probably appear to be more of a sandy tan. I’ve heard people wonder how those clothes got so clean. It’s a distraction, but one that seems to pop up.
Back to the Transfiguration. It marked an outward and visible change, not to be confused with a transformation defined as making an inward change, perhaps something more like a metamorphosis than a transfiguration. I have heard clergy make the case that while Jesus was transfigured, the transformation took place inside the disciples, making them more aware of who Jesus was, if they had needed any more convincing than Jesus had already shown them. If their eyes hadn’t enough proof, having God’s voice from a cloud identify Jesus as God’s Son should have shaken them to their cores and convinced them that this was more than some dream or delusion.
I can’t say I’ve ever seen a transfiguration, but I have witnessed transformations. One experience was meeting a Russian Orthodox priest in a dimly-lit nave of our church and undeniably feeling and, I’m sure seeing, a kind of aura around him that fairly rang like a church bell as to his authenticity as one of God’s special chosen ones. It was extraordinary, with no words exchanged. He spoke no English and I spoke no Russian. Still, it didn’t need words, Moses or Elijah. It was awesome, just as it was.
I’ve seen transformations in people when behaviors that were harmful to them and those around them changed. I’ve seen a shift in myself where I know I changed in ways I would never have thought, both in habits and beliefs. I’ve seen a kind of transformation in people when suddenly a new thought or idea changed their mind about something they felt strongly about, only to find the new way was better, more just, and more like what Jesus taught.
I wish there were a way to transform the world instantly, but I feel that must be a non-starter. Climate change, unbearable heat, constant rain and flooding, sinkholes, and raging forest fires all tell us that the earth is damaged and needs help to revive itself. Person-on-person violence and global warfare are becoming all too common, and the innocent are often the ones who pay the price. We need a global metamorphosis, a transformation to bring about what God originally intended for us.
Maybe what we need now is a Transfiguration and a voice from Heaven.
ImageTransfiguration of Jesus, (1872) by Carl Bloch. Source: http://www.1st-art-gallery.com/Carl-Heinrich-Bloch/The-Transfiguration.html. Found at Wikimedia Commons
Linda Ryan is an Education for Ministry mentor, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, knitter, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She lives with her three cats near Phoenix, Arizona