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Figuring out the Transfiguration
This year the 6th August falls on a Sunday, so the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time is replaced with the celebration of the Transfiguration of the Lord.
This feast has a rather chequered history. It dates from about the 5th century in the Eastern Church and the 10th in the West. It was only in the 16th century however that it was added to the calendar of the universal Church as a mark of thanksgiving for a Christian victory over the muslim Turks near Belgrade on August 6.
August 6 is also commemorated around the world as Hiroshima Day, the anniversary of the day in 1945 when the terrifying new technology of atomic weapons was used for the first time, altering the course of history. Petitions for peace should certainly be included in our liturgies and private prayers on this day.
In the Eastern tradition the first subject that icon painters tackle on entering into their calling is the Transfiguration, using brilliant gold colours to depict Jesus as Light from Light, true God from true God. The light from Christ’s robes is always shown cascading onto the clothes of the apostles as a sign of their (and our) share in Christ’s glory.
The first reading for the feast of the Transfiguration is an apocalyptic passage from the Book of Daniel which speaks of the splendour of the Son of Man.
As with all solemnities and feasts, and in contrast to most Sundays of the year, the second reading is chosen to fit with both the first reading and the Gospel. The passage comes from the second letter of Peter which was written in times of persecution and false teaching. The writer encourages his readers to be faithful to Jesus and his way until he comes again.
Because the Gospel reading for the second Sunday of Lent is always the account of the Transfiguration of Christ, next Sunday we will hear Matthew’s version (17:1-9) for the second time this year.
The Transfiguration offers hope – then and now. At the end of his time on earth Jesus went up a mountain and there was nailed to a cross. The earlier events on a mountain were intended to give the disciples a glimpse of who Jesus really was and hence sustain them.
We too have already been shown what awaits the faithful follower – transfiguration into glory. We can take up the cross of discipleship with courage because we have the promise of resurrection and know that by ‘listening to him’ we help establish the reign of God.
This is expressed (somewhat convolutedly) in the Preface of the feast:
For he revealed his glory in the presence of chosen witnesses
and filled with the greatest splendour that bodily form which he shares with all humanity,
that the scandal of the Cross might be removed from the hearts of his disciples
and that he might show how in the body of the whole Church is to be fulfilled
what so wonderfully shone forth first in its Head.