From the Pastor – February 28, 2010

While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” (Lk 9:34-36a)

What a difference a week has made. Last weekend we heard of Christ going into the desert to be tempted by the devil. And this weekend, Christ has gone from the desolation of the desert to the glory of the Transfiguration on the mountaintop where God announces Jesus as being His beloved Son. But why do we go from one dramatic place to another during this first week of Lent? Most of the Church Fathers saw the Transfiguration as a glimpse of the glory of Christ given to his disciples so that they might be strengthened to witness the scandal of the Cross.  And this is certainly true. But three things immediately jump out of the reading.

First, is the number of apostles. Not all of the twelve are present – only Peter, James and John, the same three apostles that would accompany Jesus into the Garden of Gethsemane. Even though they were strengthened by their witness to the glory of the Transfiguration, they would still flee at the beginning of the persecution of Christ.

The second point is the encounter between Jesus and Moses and Elijah. Of course, an easy connection can be made to Jesus being the fulfillment of the law (represented by Moses, who received the Ten Commandments) and the prophets (represented by the prototypical Elijah). But it’s important to note what they are discussing on Mt. Tabor. Shrouded in glory, they’re not focused on Heaven’s glory but on the “exodus that He was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.” This exodus meant the passage Jesus would make from the slavery of death to the Promised Land of eternal life, a journey prefigured in the exodus by which Moses led the Jewish people out from the slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land of Israel. And the means by which Jesus would accomplish this exodus is His suffering and death. Once again, the Transfiguration points to the cross.

And then comes the third, penultimate point of the passage: God the Father speaks. He confirms His Son’s true identity. Jesus wasn’t John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the prophets, as many people believed. He wasn’t simply the long-awaited Messiah. God the Father thundered from heaven, “This is my beloved Son!” Then he gave a command to the three apostles with Jesus on the mountain: “Listen to Him!” The command echoes to us to listen to what Jesus said about his suffering and death, and believe in Him.

The encounter on Mt. Tabor is given for us to remember where we are headed. Is it to the glory of Heaven represented by the transfigured Lord? We hope so. But we can only get there through the Paschal Mystery: the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. During Lent, we embrace the cross. It’s the only means by which we are saved.

Rev. Msgr. Christopher H. Nalty