Don’t forget heaven!

The transfiguration of the Lord is a revelatory event in the beginnings of the church. It leads Christians into a supernatural dimension and wants to tell them: there are goals worth striving for even outside of your daily lives. Don’t just seek to reach your earthly goals; remember heaven.

The corresponding passages in the Synoptic Gospels speak about transfiguration (Latin) or metamorphosis (Greek). Either way, it is an extraordinary event that transcends the usual limitations.

The fact of ascending a mountain already testifies of majesty and holiness. The body of Jesus is transfigured, a beam of light comes from above, and reality becomes a blur: “Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them. And Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid. And a cloud came and overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!’ Suddenly, when they had looked around, they saw no one any more, but only Jesus with themselves. Now as they came down from the mountain, He commanded them that they should tell no one the things they had seen, till the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (Mark 9: 2–9).

Before the eyes and ears of the three witnesses a special kind of mystery of faith occurs. It is something Peter will never forget: “ For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1: 16–18).

A feast of faith

Within the Catholic, Anglican, Old Catholic, and particularly the Orthodox Churches the 6th of August (August 19 in the Orthodox calendar) is a Christian holy day commemorating the transfiguration. The Lutheran Churches commemorate this event on January 6th.

What does the transfiguration of Jesus teach us ?

Why is the transfiguration of Jesus so important that it is mentioned in the biblical texts and is the subject of apostolic proclamation today? There are several answers to this.

  • It is a contrast to Jesus’ announcement of His suffering to His disciples. That is the obvious explanation. The Son of God had to suffer and go through dreadful hours of doubt and loneliness. Before they went up the mountain, Jesus spoke told His disciples about it. In the end, however, there is no hopelessness or bitterness, something which people sometimes show when they reveal their disappointment in the ways of God. No, the final word of God is a powerful and holy word, sublime and just—against all reason. After life comes a life that is determined by Him alone. From this follows that despite all the fear and dread, the joyful hope in the resurrection for Christians is justified.
  • God sees you – always and everywhere. Nobody is forgotten by Him without His protection. Just as Moses and Elijah once bore witness of God, the Lord still today provides protection and support for those who follow Him. As Christians we are never alone. From time to time, He will pick us up out of the depths of our sadness and grant us this revelation.
  • Light illuminates our lives. We all need these stages of enlightenment. No one is able to fully illuminate the glad tidings of the grace of the Lord himself. We constantly fall into gaps, doubt, and darkness. This is where the light from above does us good. It clearly shows what is at stake: nothing less than eternal life.

The disciples which the Lord took with Him were to tell no one about what they had seen until He had risen from the dead. He has long since resurrected, and we are not to keep silent any longer. Those who believe do not keep silent, but talk freely about their faith. The reward of a Christian life is glory, our transfiguration. If that is not worthwhile, then what is?

Photo: Peter Johanning

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Peter Johanning