Saints Peter and James and John had the inexpressible and lonely privilege of being the only witnesses to that event which we call the Transfiguration of Christ. They went with the Lord up into a mountain where they first went to sleep and then awoke to be what St. Peter calls “eyewitnesses of his majesty.” What they saw was a Jesus utterly transformed in bodily appearance. The overwhelming impression was of an unearthly bright whiteness. If we remember nothing else from the Gospel accounts, it is that word “glistering” -- “his raiment was white and glistering.”
A cloud covered the scene and the voice of God was heard saying, “this is my beloved Son; hear him.” At the beginning, the Disciples had seen their Master conversing with Moses and Elijah; after the cloud passed they saw that He was alone.
This event surely was one of the major miracles of Christ’s life and ministry, ranking with the raising of Lazarus from the dead, the feeding of the five thousand, the turning of the water into wine at Cana, and only just below the supreme miracle of the Resurrection.
No one can say precisely what happened on that mountain. The three Apostles who were eyewitnesses did not know what to make of it, except that it was a revelatory moment in which God vouchsafed them a glimpse of their Lord’s real nature. They saw something which revealed to them the true divine nature of Jesus, a nature confirmed audibly to them by the voice of God.
It would seem, if we are to read aright the significance of this great moment, this ineffable transformation, that suddenly the divine light previously hidden in the soul of Jesus was allowed for a brief moment to burst forth into His body, changing its character and appearance beyond all previous of subsequent experience. Jesus’ divine nature suddenly burst the bonds of His human form and irradiated His body with a force which could have come only from the Creator. It was the same force which was to well up in the tomb and propel Him irresistibly through the folds of the shroud and into His resurrected form.
The Transfiguration is thus, in very fact, a preview, a portent, of the Resurrection. Saints Peter, James and John could not understand it until the Resurrection was a fact and the Ascension and Pentecost had opened their eyes. We, too, cannot understand this event except in the most limited way. But we know it as a confirmation, in His lifetime, of the fact that Jesus is very God of very God, and it gives vivid meaning to the credal description of Him as “Light of Light.”
Anglicanism, along with other branches of the Western Church, observes the Feast of the Transfiguration on August 6th of each year. The Eastern Church makes more of it than do we in the West. Nevertheless, there are surely few events in the Christian story, few days in the Christian year, more glorious, more worthy of remembrance. It is a day of reassurance that Christ is indeed Lord, that He is God’s very Son, “being of one substance with the Father.” It is a day of all days in which to give thanks to God in the Holy Eucharist.
(It may be noted as of interest that early Christian tradition identified the place of the Transfiguration as Mount Tabor. This is an 1,800 foot high mountain standing in Galilee in the northern part of Israel, between the cities of Nazareth and Tiberias. There is of course no certain proof that this legend is correct.)