Imagine. We are in the final days of Jesus’ earthly ministry. After three years of watching and living with Jesus, seeing His miracles, listening to His teachings, and seeing His bold confrontations with the hypocritical religious leaders, Jesus asks His followers, “Who do you say I am?” Peter declares “You are the Messiah,” the Anointed One long awaited by Israel! Right after this revelation, Jesus foretells his upcoming death and resurrection and highlights to His disciples that in order for them to follow Him, they also must be ready to deny themselves and take up their own cross. Jesus voluntarily approaches His path of suffering and death while preparing His followers they must be ready for the same path. The Messiah accepting the path of sacrificial suffering and death, and His followers doing the same.
After revealing this confusing juxtaposition, He goes on to note how “some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” What does that mean? How will they see Christ’s glory revealed? When will they taste the kingdom of heaven?
Well, six days after Peter’s declaration of the Christ, Jesus takes Peter, John and James to climb Mount Tabor and spend a night in prayer. This was common for Jesus to spend an all-night vigil in prayer.
On this night, however, the unexpected happens. In the middle of His prayers, Jesus begins to radiate light from His very being – divine light, the uncreated light of God. The disciples can’t even look at the face of Christ because it shines brighter than the sun. In the midst of this divine experience, the disciples see a vision of Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah, two of the greatest Old Testament saints who offer testimony to the fact that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Jewish Law and prophets. These prophets are discussing with Jesus about what will happen in Jerusalem, about His ultimate sacrifice and death. As the disciples feel overwhelmed, they then hear a voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
This feast of the Holy Transfiguration, which we celebrate today, is precisely when Peter, James and John experienced the glory of God through witnessing the divine, uncreated Light. It was a “theophany” or appearance of God where they saw “the Son of Man come in his kingdom.” They witnessed Christ’s glory – knowing Jesus is truly One with God Almighty – and thus, felt encouraged right before they would enter into the darkest days of Christ’s passion and death.
Here lies the paradoxical connection between Jesus’ heavenly glory and His path of sacrifice and ultimate crucifixion and death. Jesus is the King of Glory and yet this heavenly King willingly sacrifices His life for the entire world. He reveals the coming of His Kingdom as a kingdom where He loves the world so much that He readily accepts the path of the cross, the path of dying for others, the path of revealing His love by becoming a sacrificial lamb which takes away the sins of the world.
Glory and sacrifice. His Kingdom is one of sacrificial love for the other. Thus, if anyone wants to experience transfiguration in our own lives, if we want to participate in His Divine love – and this is the potential that lies within each one of us – then we have to be ready to follow a similar path where we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and imitate Jesus in our willingness to love others even to the point of death. “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for a friend.”
God’s glory is the glory to love the other unconditionally. This is where the Way of Christ stands in stark opposition to the ways of the world. Our renewal and transformation comes not when we focus on ourselves, not when we make ourselves number one, not when we put our desires above all others. No! Our renewal and transfiguration comes when we voluntarily and willingly say YES to following Christ on the Cross, when we choose to live a life of sacrificial love for the other.
The Transfiguration of our Lord raises our eyes to our original destiny to become “partakers of the divine nature,” which means partaking of divine and sacrificial love. Jesus affirmed this teaching throughout his ministry when He invited all people to enter into His divine love. He wants you and me, to become one with Him. “I am the vine and you are the branches,” Jesus teaches. “Abide in Me and I in you… As the Father loved me, I also have loved you; abide in my love.”
Human life is not about petty, mundane, superficial pursuits of pleasure, comfort, power, and worldly success, but instead is about a greater call, a return to our original calling and destination! Life is about transformation and transfiguration into the life of Christ; it is about loving others as Jesus loved the world!
When we reflect upon Jesus’ transfiguration, we realize how He calls each one of us to open our hearts and lives to His Spirit, so that He can “transfigure” our lives, and in fact all humanity, into “a new creation.” No matter who we are, or what we’ve done in life, He is ready to transfigure us. He longs to dwell in us and lead us on an eternal journey of divine love.
Every Sunday we come to Church to unite with Jesus Christ through our worship and the receiving of His sacred Body and Blood. After we receive Holy Communion, we sing, “We have seen the true light. We have received the heavenly Spirit. We have found the true faith…” Our call then is to walk out of this Church renewed people, offering to the world a witness of lives transfigured, of lives offering sacrificial love to the world.
Glory and sacrificial love. That is what we witness in our Lord Jesus on the feast of His Transfiguration and that is the path that each one of us is called to follow in order to experience our own transfiguration as we become partakers of His divine nature.