We may observe Lent with acts of penance and self-mortification, but that’s not what we celebrate. We celebrate Jesus’ transformative path through a self-sacrifice which is the revelation of his glory; and we celebrate our passage over that same path on which we embarked through our baptism.
Today we consider this Transfiguration as found in the Gospel according to Luke. As Luke had presented Jesus praying after his baptism, when the heavens opened, the Dove descended and the voice of God spoke, here, Jesus is at prayer when he is transfigured. Both events reflect the depths of his prayer and describe the nature of his relationship with the Father.
As will befall in Gethsemane, the three apostles he had taken with him have fallen asleep. Moses and the great Prophet Elijah converse with Jesus about his Exodus—his passion and death—just as Jesus will refer to Moses and all the prophets, when he explains that same Exodus to the two travelers to Emmaus after his resurrection.
Peter, James and John, awakening to Jesus’ prayer-experience, only see this vision briefly. Peter would build three tents to freeze the action, so to speak. This would level Jesus with the prophets AND leave Peter a spectator, rather than participant, in the prophetic ministry. That’s when a cloud descends upon them all and the Voice from heaven correctly identifies Jesus as My Chosen Son—someone greater than his prophetic precursors.
The glory of Christ, his suffering and death, his resurrection—our glory, sufferings, death and hope of rising—are all interwoven. Now and then, as we shake off our torpor, we may prayerfully glimpse the depth, the promise, the possibility of this vision. But it is not given as souvenir. Our prayer experience is not a possession but a visitor. It’s appropriate that the vision to be clouded and that we return to the path, not capturing the prophets but bearing our own prophetic witness to what God would make of our lives.