The stained-glass windows at St. Matthew’s have all the major feast scenes from the life of our Lord save one. I have been puzzling through trying to make sense of why the Transfiguration was left out. In the Gospel, and the life of the Church, it is one of the most important events of Christ’s ministry. The event on Tabor is formative to the faith.
Maybe it was left out, because we don’t quite know what to do with it. We know the Nativity and the 12-year-old in the Temple. We get the Baptism and the Wedding at Cana. We understand the Last Supper and the Commissioning of the Twelve. We believe he was crucified and resurrected. But the Transfiguration? This one seems weird and difficult. Or, maybe we fall into the category of the late scholars who just knew that this was impossible, and thus, taught it as the resurrection appearance moved to the middle as a “coming attractions” motif. In other words, it may be that our modernist lenses cannot see why this feast is important.
Yet, our liturgical life tells us that this must be deeply important. We hear of it at the end of Epiphany each year and we have today as a second celebration. The Church is trying to tell us something, so what might that be?
In short, this is the feast of promise for all of us. At the Transfiguration the light of the Glory of God, God’s very energy, shines through the flesh of Jesus. The Son and Word of God, who has condescended to be born in human likeness, taking on human flesh and nature, reveals that that nature and flesh have been united to the Godhead, and redeemed by union with God. The “veil” of the flesh, so to speak, has been withdrawn and the Divine Light shines in and through it and the “veil” covering the Apostles’ eyes has been lifted so that they can see Christ as the God-Man, and see what they will become in him. This is no created light that shines for a moment, but the eternal Glory of God united in the flesh of Jesus, our own flesh and nature.
And so, it is the promise to each of us who are in Christ. We too have bee called to a life of union with God, a life of transformation and transfiguration, by the Light. We are promised that this Light will shine in us if we follow and trust in him. This is our eternal life.
Maybe that is why there is no stained-glass of this event as it was too difficult to accomplish in its fullness. Or maybe it is because the Transfiguration is supposed to be lived out in us each time we approach the Sacred Mysteries.
I will leave off with the words of St. Gregory Palamas on this day:
“We believe what we have been taught by those enlightened by Christ, which they alone know with certainty—“My secrets are for me and those who are mine”, as God said through the prophet (Isa. 24.16 LXX, cf. Dan. 2.27ff). So, rightly believing what we were taught, and understanding the mystery of the Lord’s transfiguration, let us make our way toward the radiance of that light. As we long for the beauty of unchanging glory, let us cleanse the eyes of our understanding from all earthly defilements, despising every delight and beauty that is not lasting, for sweet as it may be, it procures eternal suffering, an though it may enhance the body, it clothes the soul in that ugly robe of sin, on account of which the man without the garment of incorruptible union was bound and taken away in outer darkness (cf. Matt.22.11-13). May we all be delivered from such a fate by the illumination and knowledge of the pre-eternal, immaterial light of the Lord’s transfiguration, to His glory and the glory of His Father without beginning, and the life-giving Spirit, whose radiance, divinity, glory kingdom and power are one and the same, now and forever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.” Homily 34.17-18 in Saint Gregory Palamas the Homilies, translated and edited by Christopher Veniamin, PhD, Mount Tabor Publishing, Dalton, PA, 2016. Copyright held by the Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex, England.