"This is my beloved Son. Listen to him."
This feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord can be a puzzling one for us to understand. It's an event we've heard about in Gospel readings, but it's not something that we've ever seen. So it's hard, I think, for us to figure out. If that's true of us, we shouldn't feel too bad: it's clear that Peter, James and John, disciples who were clearly in Jesus' "inner circle" didn't get it either. In fact, they were so frightened by it that they hardly knew what to say. God's glory can be frightening like that sometimes. As they walked down the mountain, all they could talk about was what Jesus meant by rising from the dead. Thankfully, though, we have the help of the Church's developed theology which those chosen three did not have at their disposal. So we can delve into the mystery of this Transfiguration, and in it perhaps, be transfigured ourselves.
The Transfiguration is a sign for us of three things: it's a sign of who Jesus really is, a sign of what would happen in the paschal mystery, and a sign of what is to be for those who believe.
First, then, it is a sign of who Jesus really is. We get three very beautiful clues to Jesus' true identity here. First, there is the transfiguration, or change, itself. Jesus is transfigured, and his clothes become dazzling white. He literally shines with the Glory of God. This reminded the people of Jesus' time of the way Moses' face was said to shine after he came down from the mountain where he conversed with God. It also reminds us of the way the figure who was "one like a son of man" shone in today's first reading. The transfiguration tells us that Jesus is no ordinary man, that the divinity the had from the beginning but set aside at his Incarnation, that divinity was ready to burst forth from him at any moment. It did in today's Gospel, and Peter, James and John were witnesses of it. The second clue is the appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus. This appearance linked Jesus with Israel's past, Moses representing the Law and Elijah the Prophets. His conversation with Moses and Elijah underscore that Jesus' ministry in the world was part of God's plan for our salvation. The third clue is the voice of God. "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him." If there had been any doubt, it had to be gone by now. Rarely does God speak in such a direct manner to his creation, but he did it here. Jesus was his beloved Son, and Peter, James and John – and all of us too – would do well to listen to him.
Now all of this was important, because in Mark's Gospel, from here on out, the story is all about the cross. Jesus was going to suffer and die a terrible, tortuous and ignoble death. But that kind of suffering wasn't punishment, or a sign of God's disfavor. Indeed, it was a sign that Jesus is God's beloved Son. Though he will suffer for a time, God always intended to raise him up. And so, if we, we who are God's beloved children, if we have to suffer for a time, we too can know of God's favor. We too can know that God always intended our salvation, all the way back to the time of Moses and the prophets. Jesus' true identity is a source of joy for all of us that we are beloved and that those who listen to his beloved Son will inherit the glory that bursts forth from Jesus on the mountain.
Second, the Transfiguration is a sign of what would happen in the Paschal Mystery. As I've said, from here on out, the message of Mark's Gospel will always refer to the cross of Christ. The incredible event of Jesus' Transfiguration foreshadows the glory of the Resurrection. It's a peek at what Jesus would look like after he rose from the dead. You may remember that the first witnesses of the Resurrection had a hard time recognizing Jesus. That may be because he was transfigured by the Resurrection, and so today's event is perhaps a taste of what that would be like. Yes, Jesus would have to suffer and die, but his Resurrection and Ascension would be glorious, and would open the possibility of glory to all of us as well.
Third, the Transfiguration is a sign of what waits for us who believe. The glory that we see in Jesus today is the glory that waits for all of us. We have hope of the Resurrection, we have hope of an eternal home in heaven. The transfiguration shows us that this hope is ours, if we but listen to the one who is God's beloved Son. Sure, we come to that as those who don't deserve that kind of glory. We are in need of our own kinds of transfigurations. We are in need of our sins being transfigured into faithfulness, of our failures being transfigured into joys, of our death being transfigured into everlasting life. All of those transfigurations are accomplished in us when we but listen to God's beloved Son.
It is important that we realize that, just as Peter, James and John had to come down from the mountain in today's Gospel, so we too must come down the mountain of this celebration of our faith, into our daily lives, and transfigure our world into the true image of Jesus Christ. We must transfigure the violence, hatred, and injustice that is so prevalent in our world into true peace, inclusion, love and justice that is the image of God, the glory that longs to burst forth from us and every part of our world.
Today's feast will forever be linked with a horrible event that stands in sharp contrast to this message. On August 6th in 1945, our country dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, killing over 100,000 people that day and in the days and years that followed, as they suffered and died from diseases that were the effect of exposure to radiation. This horrible event unfortunately ushered us into the nuclear age, one in which nations with nuclear capability have the power to destroy the world many times over. This sad day commemorates a bright light that was anything but God's glory, a day in which our world was transfigured, but in all the wrong ways.
Our world has long been saddened by that horrible, devastating event. Ever since, people in every nation have implored their governments to never repeat that day of death. Ever since, popes and bishops have sought to remind us that this kind of destruction is not God's will for us. Our beloved Pope John Paul II, of blessed memory, said in 1981:
"To remember the past is to commit oneself to the future.
To remember Hiroshima is to abhor nuclear war.
To remember Hiroshima is to commit oneself to peace."
He also reminds us that nuclear devastation is not a foregone conclusion to our world:
"In the face of the man-made calamity that every war is, one must affirm and reaffirm, again and again, that the waging of war is not inevitable or unchangeable. Humanity is not destined to self-destruction. Clashes of ideologies, aspirations and needs can and must be settled and resolved by means other than war and violence."
In this day of advanced and horrible weapons, every war has the frightening possibility of transfiguring our world in horrible and irrevocable ways. We must make peace our constant prayer. For those of you whose sons and daughters are off fighting for freedom in other lands, please don't hear this as a condemnation of what they do. Please do hear it as a call to prayer, that our world can be transfigured into a place where they don't have to do that, never again.
In Hiroshima there is a Peace Memorial with a statue of Sadako, a teenage girl who suffered leukemia as a result of the bomb
. After she got sick she tried to fold a thousand paper cranes because she believed she would be cured of her disease if she did. She folded more than 800 before she died. Her friends completed the project. About her
cranes Sadako wrote, "I will write Peace on your wings and you will fly all over the world." Folded cranes have become a symbol and wish for peace and an end to nuclear weapons.
Sadako's wish is one way to transfigure our broken world for peace. We who are disciples are called to actively seek ways to transfigure our world through faith, hope and love. As we come to the Eucharist today, let us all reflect on those transfigurations that need to happen in us, as well as those transfigurations that need to happen through us, transfigurations that God longs to work in our world, transfigurations that will make this world brightly shine with the image and glory of God.