Thursday, August 06, 2009

Light and glory

Today's feast of the Transfiguration offers an abundance of images to help us get some idea of who Jesus is. He brings his three chosen disciples up to the mountaintop: the place of encounter with God.
They see Moses and Elijah: Moses, who had told the people to expect "another prophet like me" and Elijah, taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, who was supposed to "come back" at the time of the Messiah. (No, this does not mean that Elijah would be reincarnated--someone actually suggested this to me!--Elijah "came" in that prophet who was so much like him, John the Baptist.)
The dark cloud overhead, signaling the presence of God, brings us back to Sinai, and to the entrance of the "meeting Tent" in the desert, and the Temple when Solomon dedicated it. (Luke also hints at the "cloud" in the Annunciation to Mary, when the Angel Gabriel tells her, "The Holy Spirit will cover you with its shadow," bringing about the conception of Jesus.)
By the time the heavenly voice says, "This is my Beloved Son, listen to Him," Peter gets it: this is the fulfillment of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles or "booths" (it can also be rendered "tents"). That annual festival of outdoor living was not just looking backwards to the desert years: it was looking forward to an eternal dwelling. (That's why we prayed "How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord God of Hosts" in the Liturgy of the Hours this morning.) That's why Peter offers to set up the tents for Jesus and the two prophets.
Not so fast, Peter. This is still an anticipation of the everlasting dwelling place. Jesus has to take us there the long way: the way that passes through Calvary. But at least you've had a glimpse of where things are really headed in the long run.
And so have we.

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