The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.” Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.Exodus 24:12-18
Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.2 Corinthians 4:1-6
Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration that remembers the event of our Lord’s transfiguration. We had read of the episode yesterday in Mark’s Gospel. The two thematic readings today revolve around this episode and serve to highlight a thread that runs from the Old to the New Testament.
We remember that in the episode, Peter, James, and John witnessed light shining from Jesus and transfiguring him while they were praying on a mountain. Then they were overshadowed by a cloud from which a divine voice spoke. The entire episode calls to mind Moses’ encounter with God on Mount Sinai where God’s glory appeared to Israel as a “devouring fire on the top of the mountain” and “Moses entered the cloud” which covered that glory. It was there in the cloud, Moses conversed with God.
Why the cloud? Even though Moses is at times described as conversing with God “face to face” (Ex. 33.11), it is a metaphorical description that highlights the intimacy of the meetings and cannot be taken literally. God himself told Moses that “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live” (Ex. 33.20), hence he could not have actually conversed with God “face to face.” Therefore, the cloud served as a cover that protected Moses from the devouring glory of God on the mountain, lest he as an unclean person be consumed by the holiness of God and die. This was also why the same cloud would descend on the tent of meeting whenever Moses went to meet God there. Perhaps you could think of it as a lead shield for lethal radiation!
However, in the episode of Christ’s transfiguration, Peter, James, and John actually saw the face of God blazing with divine glory in person, in the person of Christ! It is less obvious in Mark’s Gospel but Matthew’s is explicit: “[Christ’s] face shone like the sun” (Mt. 17.2). This was a manifestation of the glory of his divinity, for “the fullness of God” dwells in Christ bodily (Col. 1.19; 2.9). Hence, unlike Moses, the three disciples truly saw the glory of God face to face, unobscured, and lived. (Here, the cloud which eventually overshadowed them serves to indicate the theophanic nature of the event.)
Even though he was not present, the Apostle Paul saw a great implication in Christ’s manifestation of divine glory. To him, anyone who turns to Christ is filled with his Holy Spirit, and this is as if we have beheld the glory of God “as though reflected in a mirror.” God “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” As a result of that we are “being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2Cor. 3.18; 4.6).
Even though we have not actually seen Christ face to face, let alone seen his transfigured form, if we have his Holy Spirit in us, our hearts would have already experienced Christ’s transfiguration. This inner divine encounter we have through the Holy Spirit inevitably transforms (transfigures) who we are. In turn, we reflect Christ’s divine glory to a darkened world in what we do and proclaim. On this Feast of the Transfiguration, may we open our hearts to an encounter with Christ and may his divine glory transform us from one degree of glory to another.
- pertaining to a divine manifestation.↩︎