Transfigured by Love
Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. It is one of those feasts that I just love because there is so much that connects salvation history between the Old and New Testaments in this event. It also is because I had a memorable experience when I was a teenager in which I was prayed over by some dear friends in order to receive a deepening of the Holy Spirit in my life. It was a life changing event for me, and only when I was older did I understand all the connections of the Feast of the Transfiguration with the deep friendship and love of Jesus for His friends.
The event of the Transfiguration took place when Jesus took three of His closest apostles, Peter, James, and John up Mount Tabor in order to reveal to them who He really was. The Gospels tell us that Jesus changed in appearance, becoming so radiant that they could barely look upon Him. Seen along with Jesus were Moses and Elijah. I don't know about you, but I often wondered how the apostles knew who Moses and Elijah were, given that there were no portraits of them, and that they had died centuries earlier. Luke's Gospel gives an indication of what the three were talking about. This no doubt identified them, in addition to the fact that Peter, James, and John were enveloped by the presence of the Holy Spirit. In Luke's version he says that they were speaking of "His exodus that He was going to accomplish in Jerusalem." (Luke 9:31) Then a cloud came down over them and a voice was heard that said: "This is my Chosen Son; listen to Him." (Luke 9:35)
What strikes me most in this account is the intimacy of it. Jesus allowed his three closest friends to see His divinity for the first time in all His glory. It is as if Jesus allowed His humanity to step back for a moment so that His friends could see the divinity that they were struggling to understand. It is a very intimate experience for them to see Jesus this way, as if a preview of the glory that would be His after His resurrection. The second thing that strikes me is connected to the first: the element of friendship that allowed Jesus to be revealed to them as who He really was. There was a deep element of love and trust, because after the event He asked them not to tell anyone yet. This was to be between them for a while.
There are indeed many connections between the Old and New Testaments in this event, but my focus is on the elements of intimacy and friendship. Moses received the Law on Mt Sinai, and each time the encounter was so intimate that only Moses could go. God came to him in a cloud, which is referred to as the Shekinah, the glory of the Lord. During one of Moses' experiences of being in the Shekinah, God offered him something no other person had ever experienced and that was to enter into His presence so deeply that Moses would actually see God passing by. And in the offer God said he would do this because Moses was his intimate friend! (Ex. 33:17) God said: "I will make all my beauty pass before you, and in your presence I will pronounce my name, 'Lord'... but my face you cannot see." So God passed by, hiding Moses with his hand until He passed by, so as to protect Moses from being too overwhelmed by His glory. Therefore Moses saw God's back as He passed by. (Exodus 33:18-23) The Scriptures tell us that afterward Moses' face became radiant with the presence of God.
Elijah also had an intimate experience of God. In his experience, God had him go to Mt. Carmel to safety in God's presence as he fled from the evil queen Jezebel who sought to take his life. Elijah entered the cave where God was to speak with him, and the writer tells us that he recognized God's presence not in a trumpet blast or cataclysmic act, but in a small whispering sound. Elijah was exhausted from his fight against evil and he was, frankly, a bit lonely. God came in intimacy and gentleness, knowing what His friend needed. And not only did He comfort Elijah with His presence, He gave him what he needed: a companion and fellow prophet, Elisha, to accompany him as he finished his earthy mission. (1Kings19:1-18)
In the Transfiguration, it makes sense that Moses and Elijah were present and revealed to Jesus' friends. They were telling Jesus the time had come to go to Jerusalem and to fulfill His mission by dying and rising. I am sure it was helpful to Jesus to be accompanied by His friends so that they would know, though not really understand at that time, what He was about to go through. Just as God knew that Moses and Elijah were his intimate friends, and wanted to share that with them, Jesus, the Son of God wanted His three friends to know that they had that level of intimacy as well. He was there for them, and He needed their friendship, too. He revealed things to them that He knew they were not going to understand until much later, but He revealed them all the same. I think in His humanity He needed the support of His friends, just as all of us need support from our friends throughout our lives. But I also believe that in His divinity He also wanted to express and receive love, as God has always desired love and intimacy with all His friends.
Therefore we, too, are invited into a special intimacy with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, just as the three apostles were invited into the presence of the Trinity in this event. (The voice of the Father was heard, the Son was revealed, and the cloud was the presence of the Holy Spirit.) The Gospel writers recorded and shared this story with us so that we would know that being intimate with God was not just an Old Testament experience for a select few, or even a New Testament experience of a select few. Rather, intimacy with God is for all of us. The cloud of God's presence is there for all of us, even if we do not see it in the way that they did. We, too, are invited into the presence of the revealed Jesus every time we go to Eucharist, every time we read the Gospels, and every time we are gathered together in prayer and worship. And whenever we pray and ask God to be present to us, we are also in the presence of God in a unique way, maybe beyond our senses to see the intensity of His glory, but no less intimate an encounter. Our God loves us deeply and He wants our friendship just as He desired the friendship and intimacy of Moses, Elijah, Peter, James and John.
Therefore let us spend time in an encounter through prayer with the Lord of Love in all the intimacy He intends for us. May we be transfigured with Him as we enter His presence, coming away transformed with a new radiance in our heart. May we know of His friendship and in joy share it with others who may not be aware of the love He offers. May we be blessed by a deepened relationship with our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Let us continue to meet in the Heart of the Lord, who desires our friendship. Peace!
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Heart Speaks to Heart