You could say that Jesus gives the Apostles a preview of what is about to happen. The Transfiguration is a sneak peek, if you will, of the Resurrection. We hear in Sacred Scripture: “He was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” The Apostles see Jesus in his glory.
We might ask ourselves, why does Jesus reveal himself in this way? Why does Jesus become transfigured and why does he allow the Apostles to see this sight? He does this because things are about to get very bad. Very soon, the Apostles are going to see a very different Jesus. They will soon see the tortured face of the crucified Christ on Calvary.
Not long before this episode, Jesus predicts his passion for the very first time. He tells the Apostles, in very explicit terms “that he must go to Jerusalem and be killed.” And he tells the Apostles, they’re going to have to follow in his footsteps: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
So he wants to show the Apostles, through his Transfiguration, that his death is not the end of the story. When they see him go up the mountain of Calvary, he wants them to have the hope of the mountain of the Transfiguration.
When they see him hang upon his Cross with a thief on his right and a thief on his left, he wants them to remember that there was one on his right and one on his left, Moses and Elijah, on the mountain of the Transfiguration.
When they see the darkness of the hour of his death, he wants them to be mindful of the glory and brightness of his face. He wants them, in the midst of the horror of the crucifixion, to remember, if they can, the Transfiguration and look forward with hope to the Resurrection.
The Apostles are about to see real horror in the Crucifixion. We see real horror too. All you have to do is look at the news: there is violence and war throughout the world; domestic abuse in the family; and so on. These are all modern day crucifixions.
I’m sure you can look at your own life and point to an episode present or past and say with certainty, “This is how I am being crucified.” Perhaps you want to cry out like Jesus and ask your Father, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
In his Transfiguration, Jesus reveals to us that our Father is always present. Like the Apostles, we follow Jesus up the mountain; the mountain of our struggles and crucifixions. A cloud overshadows us. And from that cloud, we hear the voice of our Father say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
And we’re afraid to listen to him. Because he’s telling us to take up our cross and follow him and we don’t want to face that kind of trial. And like the disciples, we fall face down and are very much afraid.
But look at what Jesus does next: the Gospel tells us, “But Jesus came… and touched them… saying, ‘Rise, and do not be afraid.’”
You will frequently hear Jesus say, “rise” to people. It means a lot more than just “get up.” When Jesus says “rise,” he’s alluding to the Resurrection. For example, when he tells Martha, “Your brother Lazarus will rise.” Or, when he says to the little girl “talitha koum” which means, “little girl arise.” Other times, he’s speaking about a spiritual resurrection like when he tells the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, “Rise and take up your mat.”
In our lives, we do see and experience horrific things. We feel like we’re being crucified. And sometimes, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. It did for Jesus.
Yes, we do have to go through the Cross. But death and crucifixion and the pain you’re going through is not the end. Hear Jesus say “rise.” Let him lead you to the glory of his Resurrection. And let him lead you to your glory of new life in him.
How are you going to let Jesus touch you and say “rise” to you this Lent?