Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother,
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them;
his face shone like the sun
and his clothes became white as light.
And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them,
conversing with him.
Transfiguration by Theophanes the Greek
His face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.
Transfiguration is one of those words that always sends me to the dictionary. “A radical transformation of appearance; a radiant emanation.” Why did Jesus appear radiant?
This particular passage is bracketed by the first two occasions where Jesus tells the apostles that he must suffer and die. In fact when Peter first heard this, he protested prompting Jesus to say, "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do." Jesus has already accepted the suffering he will endure.
Accepted suffering? Can this possibly be what can help us to become God-like? It almost goes against the grain of everything we do. We drink so that we do not suffer thirst; we eat so that we do not suffer hunger; we clothe and shelter ourselves so that we do not suffer from the elements. Almost all of our activity is geared to reduce suffering of one kind or another in our life. In fact, our culture invites us to seek comfort where ever we can.
Sometimes we cannot escape suffering. We get sick, with illness or disease or we are hurt or disabled by natural or manmade disasters. Ask the people of Japan about suffering right now. The Worst kind of suffering is caused by the unjust actions of one person or country over another. Ask the people of Libya about suffering.
This transfiguration of Jesus was a way to show Peter, James and John that suffering does not end in ruin and death, but is a pathway to glory. Have you ever noticed someone who was dying that seemed to have a glow? I have seen some with a terminal illness that seemed absolutely radiant. How can that be? Could it be that they can finally see beyond the misery of this world to the glory of the next?
The season of Lent is an opportunity for us to voluntarily accept suffering as a way to purification; as a way of letting go; as a way of becoming God-like.
Saint Paul in his letter to the Corinthians asks us to consider an athlete. “While all the runners in the stadium take part in the race, the award goes to one man. In that case run as to win! Athletes deny themselves all sorts of things. They do this to win a crown of leaves that withers, but we a crown that is imperishable.” 1 Cor 9:24-25
In our celebration of the eucharist today, let us pray that we become trans- figured with Christ so that we may radiate his light and love to a suffering world, and that we may accept suffering as a pathway to Godliness.