Summary: The Transformation of Christ is not HIS changing, but his changing of us by Grace
Solemnity of the Transfiguration of Christ, 2001
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
I am going to tell you all something truly shocking this morning.
We celebrate today the Solemnity of the Transfiguration of Christ, but I tell you, this is incorrect. Because Christ was NOT transfigured! Moses was NOT transfigured! Elias was NOT transfigured!!
The Gospel tells us "the fashion of His countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistening".
But I would suggest to you this morning, that is simply NOT what happened.
Now - since I can already hear Fr. Rice mentally preparing his charges of heresy, perhaps I should explain my position.
We have, just moments ago heard in the Gospel the story of the alleged transfiguration of Christ. From this account we know that Jesus, Moses, Elias, Peter, John and James were all present.
The Gospel tells us that Moses and Elias appeared in glory after some apparent changes in the appearance of our Lord.
Peter, being overwhelmed - and apparently babbling - suggested that they build three tabernacles, or huts, for the three of them. And then the cloud descended - and then a tremendous voice saying "this is my beloved Son, here him"!
Now - my whole problem with the Transfiguration of Christ stems from Christology 101 and Remedial Dogmatic Theology.
You see, transfigured means transformed - changed.
And the most basic thing we know about Christ is that he is God Incarnate.
And one of the most basic things we know about God is his changelessness.
Therefore, in my professional theological opinion, Christ was NOT transfigured.
So - naturally, we need to remove this feast of the Transfiguration from the Church Calendar … Right???
You see, this is a very misunderstood story. We THINK it it’s about Jesus. But it really isn’t. It’s about Peter and John and James.
You see, the Gospel is written through the eyes of the Evangelist. So, when we read "His countenance was altered…", what this means is that, the perception of Peter and John and James changed.
They were the ones who were transfigured on the mountain.
Well, … that’s very interesting for a theologian, but why then is this event so important?
What does it mean to us, today?
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the mount of the Transfiguration. You see, the Fathers of the Church understood the real impact of the story of the Transfiguration. It is about Grace and its effect on our lives.
It was by the operation of Grace that the disciples Peter, John and James were able to see Christ in a new and deeper reality. Grace had transformed or transfigured them. And the Holy Church, as the repository of Grace offers us that same mountainside view of Christ today.
In Baptism for example, we receive Grace, and while, other than being slightly damp, there is no external transformation there is a wondrous and inexplicable inward transfiguration.
Our Lord has given us his Holy Church, in which, both the spiritual birth and the further spiritual growth of men occur through the mutual action of two principals. One of these is Grace and the other; man’s opening of his heart for the reception of it, a thirst for it, and the desire to receive it. In other words, personal effort for the reception, preservation and activity in the soul of the divine gift of Grace.