The Transfiguration ranks prominently among Christ’s miraculous deeds. The showing of his divinity within his humanity anticipates the glorious body of His resurrection and demonstrates the redeemed and glorious body promised to all who remain faithful to Him and who thus will share in the resurrection of the body at the end of time.
Our Lord was transfigured before His three most highly favoured disciples, Peter, James and John, on a lonely mountain where He had led them. This is a vision granted to them when apart from the world; not in the midst of the worldly activity as most of His other miraculous actions. This teaches us that Christ shows Himself in His glory to those who seek Him apart from the world, in prayer and meditation.
Christ was transfigured before the three Apostles who were especially to bear witness to Him; before Peter, the Head of the Church; before James, who as bishop of Jerusalem was the first of the Apostles to die a martyr’s death, and John, destined to outlive all the rest, and to preach to the faithful even to the end of the first century, defending our Lord’s divinity against the attacks of unbelievers and heretics.
Yet there was more to this heavenly vision. He was transfigured before them, that His subsequent Passion might not make them waver in their faith. He was transfigured before them that, when afterwards He would hang upon the Cross, they might see in Him not a weak, dying human being, but God incarnate, revealing His majesty most gloriously also in the humiliation and shame of His suffering. He was transfigured because of His Passion, so that His Passion might be seen also as His transfiguration. Our Lord in this action shows us the link between suffering and glory.
There is another aspect of this miracle on the mountain. It is the relationship revealed between Father and Son. When God the Father speaks of his Beloved Son, he is expressing a love that trumps all the paternal and maternal love in the history of the universe a million times over. We can say this because it is not human fatherly love that is capable of offering the son as a sacrifice. It is because of this incredible divine love that God the Father, in obedience to his own faithful love for human creatures, is able to hand the Son over.
The Son freely takes on himself the wood of the cross, the instrument of sacrifice, and though he could not humanly wish to be the victim, he trusts in the love of a Father who could never abandon him
Though an innocent victim, we know that the Son accepts his sacrifice with full knowledge of what awaits him; that he will continue trusting even in what seems to be the total absence of his Father and complete abandonment by him. As Peter and his companions learned on the mountain, he is not just a son of Abraham, but the Son of God.
For Jesus there will be no reprieve. Jesus himself is the Lamb who is substituted for all God´s other sons and daughters: us. That the Father gives up the Son for whom his love is limitless means that his love is also limitless for those for whom the sacrifice is offered: us.
In this Father-Son relationship we participate because we are baptised. Christ is the vine and we are the branches. We have been grafted on to Christ through baptism and the life that runs through the vine runs through the branches. The loving bond between vine and vinedresser is shared between the branches and the vinedresser.
The Church in her wisdom orders that the gospel account of the Transfiguration be read in Lent; not in a season of triumph and rejoicing but in penitence and sorrow. This emphasises in another way that the Transfiguration is intimately linked with suffering. For us too, we are reminded that suffering and pain transfigure men and women; not of itself but because of Christ and our bond with Him.
Suffering endured out of love for Christ and in union with Christ changes the human person from within; this is the transfiguration of the person into the image of the Beloved Son. This produces peace and love in the person instead of bitterness and self-pity. For those who are companions or witnesses of the suffering, it brings about admiration and a renewed vision of human dignity rather that fear and discomfort.
Let us be clear too that suffering can be spiritual – dryness in prayer, regular and constant temptation, habits of sin, stagnation in growing in virtue. These too can be fruitful when borne with Christ and for His sake.
I finish with a quote from Pope St Leo the Great on the Transfiguration:
To help us to do what [Christ asks of us] and endure our trials in patience, we must always have ringing in our ears these words of the Father, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased – listen to Him”.