It was quite an experience for Peter, James, and John, when they saw the Lord Jesus Christ radiating His divine glory, talking with Moses and Elijah. He manifested His glory, the glory that was His as the only begotten Son of the Father - God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.
His face shone like the sun. His clothing became blinding and brilliant, whiter than any bleach on earth could bleach them. His divine nature shone through His humanity, making it clear that our Lord Jesus Christ is at once true God and true man. But He isn't like two things that are mixed together to form a third thing. He isn’t a hybrid of God and man. He is neither a “super man” nor is He a lesser god. He is the God-man, the unique Person in whom the fullness of the Deity dwells in human flesh and blood. That's what the disciples glimpsed on the mountain that day. They saw Jesus in His glory as God shining through His humanity.
And this is an important point about Jesus. His divine nature is never without His human nature. So, when we say that Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament, we mean that He is present as the God-man. Both His divine and human natures are present. Of course, there are some who deny this. They say that His presence is simply symbolic or spiritual – but what God has joined we must not separate. We must leave Jesus whole, and not try to pull Him apart. We cannot have a human Jesus sometimes, and a divine Jesus at other times. Either He is the God-man in the crib, on the Mount of Transfiguration, on the cross, at the right hand of the Father, and in the Blessed Sacrament, or else He is not the One who mediates between God and man. He touches our humanity and the Father's divinity, and He does it without dividing Himself.
In Christ, God was born of a virgin mother. In Christ, a man shone with the glory of God on the mountain. In Christ, God suffered on the cross. In Christ, a man reigns over all things at the right hand of the Father.
This means when Jesus deals with us, He deals with us according to our humanity, in a flesh and blood way. He comes to us under the outward signs of simple bread and wine. He speaks to us through words spoken by a human mouth which enter our hearts and minds by way of our physical ears. He uses things like water and oil to give us eternal life and healing. He deals with us in earthy and ordinary ways. He honours our humanity by becoming human and engaging us as human beings, as the creatures of God that we are. It is through the human flesh of Jesus that God has chosen to reveal Himself to us.
Jesus is the true Light that shines into the darkness of this world. He is the Light that shines into the darkness of death, the Light that shines into the darkness of everything that we fear. It is the very same Jesus who was laid in a manger, who was carried in Simeon's arms in the temple, who was changed in appearance before His three disciples, who hung on the cross, who died and was buried, who was raised from the dead and now lives and reigns. It's all one and the same Jesus, whether He is gloriously gleaming like the sun or ingloriously dying in the darkness.
And at every single Mass we come into that same glorious presence of Jesus Christ together with the angels and the archangels and all the company of heaven. At every Mass we are setting foot on the mountain with Jesus. At every Mass we receive forgiveness, life, and salvation. At every Mass Christ comes to preach His Word of forgiveness to us and to feed us with His Body and Blood. At every Mass something greater than the transfiguration takes place. The same Jesus is present for us as He was for His disciples on the mountain. The only difference is that we cannot see Him as the apostles did that day.
Nor would we want to see Him, really. The sight of Jesus in His glory would be too much to bear. Peter was left talking about making booths. In the Book of the Revelation, St. John the Divine saw Christ in all His glory and fell at His feet like a dead man. As Scripture says, "no one may look on God and live." But Jesus is kind and gentle toward us. He reserves His full blast glory for the Last Day.
For now, He comes hidden in humility. He is so hidden that sometimes people pass Him by without noticing. But the voice from the cloud draws our attention on where it needs to be: namely, on Jesus. "This is my beloved Son. Hear Him." As great as was this vision of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus in His glory, the center and focus is always Jesus alone. The voice of the Father declares Him to be His beloved Son, just as He did at His Baptism. He directs our ears to His voice. "Listen to Him." Listen to Him because He alone has the words of eternal life. Listen to Him because His words are Spirit and they are life. Listen to Him because He is God's word of undeserved kindness to us. In the former times God spoke by the prophets, by Moses and Elijah. But now in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son Jesus Christ.
Where Jesus is, Moses and Elijah slip into the background. When Jesus speaks, Moses and Elijah become silent. With the Father's voice having spoken from the cloud, the gospel says that the disciples "saw no one but Jesus only."
Jesus only. That's what the Mount of Transfiguration is all about. That's what the sacraments are all about. Jesus only. Only He is God's beloved Son. Only He shines with the glory of God through human flesh and blood. Only He bore our sins in His own body nailed to the tree. Only He sits at the right hand of the Father to pray for us, to forgive us, to give us life in His Name. Only He reveals the glory of God to save us and deliver us.
And as Jesus has His way with us, we too are being transfigured, changed from the inside out, changed to be like Him. For now, that work is hidden under weakness. But on the Day when Jesus again appears in glory for all the world to see, He will change our bodies to be like His glorious body.
And what a Day of Transfiguration that will be! Our Lent will be changed to Easter. Our weakness will be transformed into strength. Every tear will be wiped away, and there will be no sorrow which is not turned to joy, as He brings about a “new heaven and a new earth,” restoring all things to Himself.
O God, who before the Passion of thy Only Begotten Son didst reveal his glory upon the holy mount: grant unto us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Behold our Lord transfigured,
In Sacrament Divine;
His glory deeply hidden,
'Neath forms of Bread and Wine.
Our eyes of faith behold Him,
Salvation is outpoured;
The Saviour dwells among us,
by ev'ry heart adored.
No longer on the mountain
With Peter, James and John,
Our precious Saviour bids us
To walk where saints have gone.
He has no lasting dwelling,
Save in the hearts of men;
He feeds us with His Body,
To make us whole again.
With Moses and Elijah,
We worship Christ our King;
Lord, make our souls transfigured,
Let us with angels sing.
Lead us in paths of glory,
Give tongues to sing thy praise;
Lord Jesus, keep us faithful,
Now and for all our days.
Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, 1990
Music: "Ewing" by Alexander C. Ewing, 1853
[Pictured: "Transfiguration of Jesus" by Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1824-1890]