Transfiguration Homily - Fr Paul Rowse, OP
For someone who wants people to believe in him, the Lord did a strange thing hiding his glory so soon after he showed it to a few. After all, if one of our everyday heroes did that, we would soon be after them for the next episode. But that is precisely why the transfiguration was not to be spoken of straightaway. The transfiguration would have been misunderstood had it not been kept secret until Easter day and thus linked to the resurrection in the apostolic memory of the Church. Had it been otherwise, the Lord would have easily been followed by all simply because he could put on a show, not because of who he is and what he can make us into. The Lord commands the disciples not to speak about the transfiguration until after the resurrection so that the first is well-understood and the second well-received. In all that we have heard about the transfiguration, therefore, the resurrection comes first.
The selection God made of those to participate in the transfiguration appeals to us who are called out from the world to be God’s own. He chose Moses and Elijah to show that he is not a spectre or ghost from Easter day onwards, but the Messiah of Israel. And, because he is the Messiah of Israel risen from the dead, he is the Lord of all humanity: he was raised by the God of Moses and Elijah, the only true God. Each of those who appears transfigured honours the God of Israel. Moses honours God through the Law and by the destruction of the golden calf. Elijah follows by his faith through famine and by the destruction of the cults of the false gods, Baal and Asherah. The Lord Jesus, in his turn, honours the God of Israel by his obedience to his Father and by the destruction of death. And so we affirm that the form of idolatry which surrounds our dying is also defeated by Christ. The fear and worry and trouble and panic about the end of life takes us away from God. But Christ, once transfigured and now risen from the dead, frees us from the worst of those cares and so makes us love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength even through our suffering.
We remember that the three who appeared in glory each received God’s word for this conversation they are having. Moses received God’s word written down. With his own hand, God wrote out the Decalogue and gave the inscribed tablets to Moses. Elijah, for his part, too received God’s word, but in the still small voice, from which he hid himself in holy fear. What they speak of with the transfigured Lord was given to them many years beforehand while they still lived. Moses speaks with Christ about the fulfilment of the law he received: the Lord takes up the cross in his own obedience to the first commandment. Elijah then chimes in to show how, by the same cross, even non-Israelites are brought to worship Israel’s God: the idolatry which Elijah fought against during his life is ultimately opposed by our faith in the Lord’s cross.
More than this, the conversation the three are having shows us how the resurrection works, that is, by association. Certainly, the Lord did not need to be transfigured with anyone else. But the Lord is the Lord of life, and so he is resolved to share his glory with mere mortals who need him and who believe in him. Moses and Elijah appear already alive in glory as participants in the Lord’s life and as Israel’s chief witnesses to the Lord’s claim on that nation. The one, true God took a single nation to himself; his only Son, born under Moses’ law and with Elijah’s religion, defeats an enemy common to all humanity, death. They are now associated with the Lord in his transfiguration, and so become the heroes even of non-Israelites. And we, who are associated with Christ by our baptism, by lives of virtue, and by receiving his sacred body in Holy Communion, are ourselves transfigured into ever-better versions of ourselves, versions that is of Christ.
We have been offered, therefore, a portrait of our resurrection from the dead. Though we are mere mortals, we like Moses and Elijah have been drawn up into glory to converse with Christ. We too speak with him about his passion and death, and so associate ourselves with all he has obtained for us. To him in whom there is all hope and no fear, all glory and no shame, all life and no death be every word of praise from us now and for ever and ever. Amen.
Fr Paul Rowse, OP | Parish Priest