HE FEAST Of the Transfiguration is one of the 12 Great Feasts of the Church. In other words, on the Eastern calendar, this party ranks up there with Pascha and the Nativity. It’s one of very few feasts that get observed on a Sunday instead of bumped over (in the West) or commemorated (in the East). The Feast is that important. Why?
Although it’s called “Transfiguration” (and the Greek uses the word closest to “Metamorphosis”) the reality the Church sees here is that Jesus was revealing who he really is as both God and Man. There’s a lot of theology that arrises for no other reason than this very feast. What our idea of “salvation” is in the eastern tradition, how it is we are saved, who saves us and how we cooperate in that salvation is all sketched back to this mountaintop revelation of the mystery.
In this revelation, Jesus, as God and Man, is not just showing us his power… he’s showing us how we are to be. Because of who he is, we may become like him. Not in some spiritual paradise of harps and clouds, but in our very bodies, transfigured – metamorphosed – to be like his. Jesus the God-Man brings us humans back to integral unity with God in our spirit and in our flesh. And that happens for us to one degree or another here, on this Earth.
The problem with us – the reason we need the help – is because long ago (and continually) we get distracted by this world, either in a negative or positive way. We either get hung up on thinking the world is totally evil and/or illusory, or else we decide there’s nothing wrong with it or, equally bad, that we can fix it on our own. The clearest example of this is the other thing that gets commemorated on this day, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: humanity arrogantly unleashing the inner fire of creation on ourselves. I’ve seen the math, justifying the lesser evil. I don’t presume to judge those who make such decisions with nearly 60 years of perfect hindsight. But in the same situation now, I’d be profoundly protesting. There are peaceful means of unleashing that fire, that fall under other rubrics, but in terms of warfare, we seem to make our choices as if the enemy doesn’t matter, was not himself the living Ikon of God. Instead of reconciliation, we’re left with shadows on walls to venerate in awe.
Jesus light doesn’t burn us into nothingness. Instead it burns away the useless things. Our goal is to live always in that light – and though the daily purgation to have a more-pure life until we, too, become that light. This is the Christian teaching on salvation: to follow the light until we become the light. That is our work here, that is our work in other times and places as well, as we move from Glory to Glory.
Jesus as God-Man did not seek to make us, as some would have it, Godly Men. By this they mean, usually, good citizens who are moral and trustworthy and mow their lawns properly. WHen I hear “Godly Men” mentioned in a sermon, it usually means some sort of Eisenhower-era image of Apple Pie and a Flag. In other cultures the totems will change, but the position is the same. It’s easy to reject this – as so many in the world rightly do – not because we fail as often as we do, but because it is shallow. This largely protestant, largely American (based on solid European roots) idea is sipped by millions the world over and found wanting. They can be prim and proper (and terribly boring) on their own, thank you.
Jesus did not come to make us “Godly Men”, but rather to infuse humanity with God. The God we had exiled came among us as one of us in order that the same God might dwell within us and make us – body and soul – one with him. This is far more exciting, far more dangerous, far more salvific. The path is just there.
The purpose of Transfiguration is to give us a goal to shoot for and to light the path before us.