Transfiguration and Eucharist

[The following are excerpts from various homilies on the feast, and some additional reflection on this topic.]

…We have to look to Luke’s version to get a couple other details of this revelation. What did Jesus have to do to fulfill the Father’s plan of salvation? Luke says that during the transfiguration Jesus was speaking to Moses and Elijah of the “exodus” that he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. Of course that reminds us of the first exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. The Passover lamb was slain, and its blood protected the chosen people from destruction. That was the key event, the defining moment in the history of the people of God, and henceforth God would be known as “the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” After Jesus’ exodus in Jerusalem, the apostles would henceforth preach him to the nations as the Lord who was crucified and who rose from the dead, whose Blood saves us from sin and eternal death. The plan of the Father, which was dramatically initiated in the first exodus, was to be definitively fulfilled in Christ’s death and resurrection, and Moses and Elijah appeared to confirm it on Mt Tabor. This is part of what Jesus meant when he said He did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.

There is another element associated with the exodus which helped reveal the mystery of Jesus’ divine sonship to the disciples. In chapter 24 of the Book of Exodus, God called Moses to come up Mt Sinai to meet Him and to receive his divine commandments. A cloud surrounded the mountain, and Moses entered into the cloud to meet God. On Mt Tabor a brilliant cloud overshadowed the mountain, and Luke tells us that the apostles, in fear and trembling, entered into the cloud.

There they heard the voice of the Father testifying to his divine Son. They received no commandments written in stone, for the living and eternal Word of God in the flesh was standing right before them, and the Father simply instructed them to listen to Him. Moses could only bring the words of God down from the mountain, but the disciples could hear the words of God continually from the lips of Jesus. A new revelation, a new covenant was being enacted by Christ, one that would be fulfilled at the Last Supper and on the Cross. Moses spilled the blood of sacrificed animals on the altar and proclaimed: “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you.” At the Last Supper (or better, as Eastern Christians call it, the Mystical Supper), Jesus took a cup of wine and said: “This is the blood of the covenant; the new and everlasting covenant; this is my blood, which is shed for you…”

Transfiguration is also related to Eucharist in that it is a dramatic manifestation of the mystery of the Incarnation.  The Incarnation of the Eternal Son of God effected a hitherto impossible union: that of Creator with creation, of God with that which is not-God.  The very fact that the created, material, human flesh of Christ could be inseparably united with the uncreated divine nature and life means that henceforth matter has the potential to communicate divine grace.  Therefore water can be a means of incorporating one into the body of Christ and washing away sin in holy baptism, and oil can be a means of communicating “the Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit” in holy chrismation (confirmation), and most profoundly, bread and wine can give us the very life and indwelling presence of Christ once it is transformed into his Body and Blood.  None of the sacraments would be possible were it not for the Incarnation.  The transfiguration of Christ illustrates this mystery in a brilliant way: the uncreated light and glory of the divinity is manifested and communicated through the created medium of the material body of Jesus.  The transfiguration therefore tells us: the Incarnation is true, the sacraments are real…

As we come to the Holy Eucharist, we come for an experience of transfiguration.  Christ Himself, the same Christ that we’re celebrating standing on Mt. Tabor shining with the glory of God, is going to enter into the darkness of our own body and soul and He’s going to shine from within us, too—if we let Him, if we humbly approach Him and let Him come to us, touch us, speak to us those words of consolation, and call us to a fuller, nobler life, where we can really give ourselves to this universal work of the transfiguration of the whole universe, which we’ll see accomplished in the end, and we’ll be amazed to see that we had something to do with that, through our faithfulness to God [OK, so I sometimes write 115-word sentences!].  Let us come to Him now, with joy and gratitude and awe, as if we were standing on that same holy mountain.  We should let Him take us into Himself, so we can hear the voice of the Father saying how much He loves us, how much He regards us and accepts us as his sons and daughters.  Then we too will walk in that mystery of crucifixion, yet of transfiguration, and ultimately of the glory of resurrection.

About Father Joseph

I am a priest and monk currently serving with the Contemplatives of St Joseph in South San Francisco, CA. I am in my 33rd year of monastic life and in my 24th as a priest.

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