The story of the Transfiguration appears in the three synoptic gospels and it is also mentioned in the second letter of Peter. The event takes place about a week after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One. It takes place during a time of transition: the Galilean ministry of Jesus has come to an end, and he is preparing his disciples for the journey to Jerusalem and the events that will take place there. Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him to the top of a mountain to pray. They must have been very tired, because while they were praying Peter, James and John fell asleep. They awoke to find Jesus’ face and clothing radiating a brilliant white and Jesus was standing with two men. Jesus and these men were discussing his journey to Jerusalem and what would happen there, the fulfillment of his destiny in Jerusalem. Peter, James, and John knew that Jesus was talking to Moses and Elijah, but how they knew this I do not understand. Peter said that it was good to be there and offered to build huts for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Just as he made his offer a cloud settled over them. Then a voice said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Suddenly they saw Jesus standing alone, and they were silent, which is the proper response to such an event.
The disciples knew Jesus as a human being, but this experience must have changed Peter, James, and John’s perception of who Jesus is. They now knew that he was human and divine. At times we forget that the man Jesus had two natures. Sometimes we need a divine Jesus who transcends everything, while other times we need a human Jesus who knows exactly what life in this world with all its joy and sadness, love and pain, is really like.
The Transfiguration was a transcendent, spiritual experience for those who witnessed it. To be alone with Jesus and praying with him, only to see him manifest his glory must have touched the very core of their souls, and they responded with silence. The Psalmist wrote: “Be still and know that I am God” and they were silent in the presence of holiness and divinity. They, just like Moses, experienced God as light and time must have stood still for them; there was nothing but that eternal moment. If you remember the rest of Luke’s account, when they all joined the others at the bottom of the mountain there was a boy with a demon and all manner of trouble was breaking out. They went from the silence and holiness to the noise of everyday life.
I think it is important for us to experience the quiet, holy moments, but as Christians we must be right there in the world dealing with all the problems and craziness which fill this world. I think that God chooses certain people to experience moments of great holiness like the Transfiguration, but not everyone experiences God in that manner. For some reason we do not know, Jesus chose Peter, James, and John to experience the Transfiguration with out the other disciples. It was not because they were better than the others; James and John tried to get ahead of the others and asked to sit on the right and left of Jesus in his kingdom, and Peter deserted and denied Jesus when Jesus needed him the most. God grants some people mystical experiences and while some people seek these experiences all their lives, they never see God as light or have a transcendent moment. Perhaps some people are more inclined towards mysticism, while others are more inclined to experience God in others. God is so large, God is so vast, that we can not even conceive of all the different ways God speaks and interacts with us, and no one way is superior to another. God interacts with us in the way most appropriate to us. Jesus was transfigured in the presence of Peter, James, and John, but Jesus came to save everyone, and he appeared to all the disciples after his resurrection. We need to stay open to every experience God has for us and we need to be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit so that God can work through us. Transcendent experiences are good, but so is experiencing Jesus in those all around us. What is most important is that we love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and that we love our neighbors as ourselves.
O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in his beauty; who with you, O Father, and you, O Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.