The Winter Olympics are wrapping up, and it reminds me of my favorite winter sport—skiing. I love to watch the downhill, slalom, even the ski jumping. And if you’ve ever skied before, you know that when you’re up on a mountain, covered in snow, and the sun comes out, the mountain turns dazzling white. It is so bright, that it can make it really hard to see if you’re not wearing sunglasses or goggles. But then, usually in the early afternoon, the clouds can roll in and cover the mountain, even in just a few minutes. And these two things, the dazzling brightness and the cloud covering the mountain, are phenomena we encounter in the gospel reading today—the Transfiguration of the Lord.
Jesus is revealed as the New Moses and New Elijah.
In the gospel, the Apostles are up on a mountain, and the mountain becomes covered in a cloud. This is a direct reference to another famous mountain in the Old Testament, Mount Sinai. Remember, as Moses was up on the mountain, it was covered in a thunderous cloud, and the thunder represented the voice of God. In the gospel passage, the Apostles actually get to hear the voice of God from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”
Furthermore, it is worth noting what was given to Moses on Sinai—the Law. The Law carried the authority of God, which must be heeded and followed. The Law was to be the organizing principle of the Israelite people. Now in the Transfiguration of Jesus, the booming voice from heaven declares that Jesus has the authority of God, and it is he who must be heeded and followed. Jesus, of course, then becomes the head of his Mystical Body, the Church, and so is the organizing principle of the new People of God.
We also see at the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appearing beside Jesus. Now, this is important because of what Moses and Elijah represent: namely, the Law and the Prophets. In Hebrew, that’s the Torah and the Nebi’im, which comprise most of the Jewish Bible. In other words, Moses and Elijah represent our Old Testament, and Jesus is seen speaking with them. Then, when the cloud is lifted from the mountain, only Jesus remains. This indicates to us that Jesus is the summation of the Law and the Prophets.
But where else have we heard this before? I think in particular of Matthew’s gospel, where Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” Then there was the time when the scholar of the Law was questioning Jesus. He asked what is the greatest commandment, and Jesus gives him a direct answer: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
Yes, Jesus has come to fulfill what God had already revealed, and to sum it up in himself. In this passage, Jesus is revealed as the new Moses and the new Elijah. And as the new Moses and the new Elijah, he does the same as the old Moses and Elijah: speaking with divine authority, and giving the commandment to love God and our neighbor. But he also goes beyond them and does something new.
You remember that when Moses came down off Mount Sinai, his face was dazzling bright, and he had to cover it with a veil. So also on Mount Tabor, Jesus is transfigured and his clothes become dazzling white. Here is a definite similarity, but also a contrast: Whereas in Genesis, a piece of cloth was sufficient to shade the radiance of Moses’ face, here in Mark’s gospel Jesus’ clothes become whiter than any in all the earth. It is the glory of God emanating from the head and body of Christ that illumine his clothing, and this has a theological significance. We see in the Transfiguration an image of the full Christ being glorified, head and members. That is a sign that the Church, which is called the Mystical Body of Christ, will be glorified with Christ, the head. We are reminded of this fact in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians when he writes, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
What this means is that the bride of Christ, the Body of Christ, the Church, is destined for the same glory as Jesus Christ on Mount Tabor.
But if we are to share glory with Jesus, we also must share in his cross. And this is the meaning of our first reading today.
The dramatic scene of Abraham and Isaac is a foreshadowing of the crucifixion of Jesus. Let’s compare the two: In the first reading from Genesis, we have a father and son: Abraham and Isaac. In the gospels, we have a Father and his Son: God the Father and Jesus Christ. In Genesis, the pair go up a hill in what would become Jerusalem. In the gospels, Jesus ascends a hill just outside the walls of Jerusalem. In Genesis Abraham puts the wood for the sacrifice on his son’s shoulders; in the gospels, the Son of God also carries the wood for his own sacrifice. In Genesis, Abraham sacrifices a male sheep; in the gospel, it is the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who is sacrificed on the cross. In Genesis, God promises countless descendants to Abraham; in the gospels, the Church is born, and she continues to add countless members to her numbers, even today.
Glory and the cross are inseparable.
The connection between Isaac and Abraham, the transfiguration of Jesus, and the crucifixion of Jesus are inseparable. What it means is that the glory of Jesus and the sorrow of the cross are inseparable. And as it is true for Christ, the head, so it is true for the Church, his Body. There is no glory for us without the cross.
Jesus exhorts us in all of the gospels to take up our crosses and follow him. That means leaving behind a life of sin, and embracing the challenges and suffering that comes to us. None of us gets to choose our cross—they are given to us as a means to redemption and glory. There is no glory without the cross. It was true for Jesus; it is true for us.
Jesus also teaches us that whoever wishes to save his life will lose it. That means we must stop leaving back doors open, so that we can escape the hardship that comes from being a disciple. God desires us to love him with our whole heart, without holding anything back. When we love him with only a small part of our heart, but reserve the rest of our heart for other, lesser loves, we set up compartments within our heart. And a divided heart cannot love God. Just like Abraham didn’t hold back his beloved son, Isaac, God has held nothing back from us—he has given us his beloved Son. If we love him, we must listen to him and obey him. Whoever loses his life for Jesus’ sake, will find life.
The Son of Man, who is the summation of the Law and the Prophets, will repay everyone according to his conduct. We have been commanded by a voice from heaven to listen to Jesus’ commandments. This we can be sure of: Jesus will return, and he will be our judge. If we do get to enter into Heavenly glory, it will be thru Jesus.
As we recall the transfiguration, we recall the keys to own transfiguration.
- Take up your cross,
- Love God with an undivided heart,
- Do the right thing.
These are the duties of a disciple. Only by being a disciple of Jesus Christ do we get to share in the transfiguration and glory of Jesus Christ.
Now is the time to begin that transfiguration, that transformation. This Lent, allow God to enter your heart, to change you. Allow Jesus to make you radiant with holiness.
When we enter that Kingdom of Heaven, there will be no more suffering, no more pain, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. We shall see him face to face, and we, his Body, will be radiant, just as he was. But we need not wait that long!
Just like the cloud resting on the mountain, the presence of God has come to rest on us today. As we come forward for communion today, we experience the fulfillment of what those three chosen disciples witnessed on Mount Tabor on that day. We, while still on earth, are allowed to partake of the things of heaven.We catch a glimpse of the splendor of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, and we become his glorious body.
 Matthew 5:17
 Matthew 22:37-40
 Ephesians 5:25-27
 Deuteronomy 6:5