Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him onto the mountain where he was transfigured before them. On the mountain, Jesus begins to shine with bright rays of light. Then the prophets Moses and Elijah appear next to him and he speaks with them. Jesus is then called “Son” by a voice in the sky, assumed to be God the Father, as in the story of Jesus’ baptism.
Many of us don’t really talk much about Transfiguration. But for most of Christian history, it has been considered one of the most important miracles depicted in the Gospels…second, perhaps, only to the Resurrection.
There are only three times in the Gospel accounts where the veil of heaven is torn open. These three apocalyptic moments occur at Jesus’ baptism, his transfiguration, and his crucifixion. In these, Jesus is shown to be a bridge between humanity and the divine.
This revelation of God’s presence, which comes just before Jesus begins his march to Jerusalem to face the powers-that-be, is a glimpse into the vocation of Jesus. He ascends the mount in order to draw strength from his ancestors. Moses and Elijah meet him there, representing not only biblical archetypes of the Law and the Prophets; they were also visionaries who communed with God on mountaintops themselves. Jesus stands in the tradition of those who encounter the radically undomesticated God in the wild.
And there, in the presence of the great prophets and his closest comrades, the voice of God proclaims: “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.”
It is easy to assume (as many have) that this scene depicts a foretaste of what is to come—a prefiguration of heaven. But this story isn’t a taste of what is to come, but a revealing of what is.
In the midst of the Gospel story—right after Jesus essentially gets into a fight with Peter because Peter refused to accept that Jesus is to suffer and die (and Jesus calls Peter “satan”), we see God pull back the veil and reveal Jesus as he is…as he has always been. It isn’t Jesus who is changed on the mount of Transfiguration; it is the perception of Peter, James, and John that have changed.
And then Jesus, carrying the traditions of Elijah and Moses, makes his way to Jerusalem to confront the powerful. And it will cost him his life.
How do you think you’d see the world around you differently if you could see it transfigured?