There are many miracles recorded in the New Testament, but this one is different in that it is the only of those miracles which happens to Jesus himself.
The Gospel accounts of this event are Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, and Luke 9:28-36. 2 Peter 1:16-18 and John 1:14 may also refer to this event.
There is much to be learned from this miracle. For one thing, it gave the Apostles, and now us as we read Scripture, something of a preview of the glorified and complete life in heaven. For another, it shows Jesus as the Messiah, he to whom the Law, represented by Moses, and the Prophets, represented by Elijah, point.
Those two things tell us much about Jesus, but there is something about us we can learn too. What was the Apostles' reaction to this event? They wanted to stay there, and devote themselves to basking in this event. But they were told not to, that there was work ahead in Jerusalem, and not only that, they were told to not even speak of it until after the Resurrection which they did not yet even understand.
Are we not also like that? We want to preserve sublime moments in this life and create conditions to produce them, either in literal monasteries or in monasteries of the mind, and thus isolate and exempt ourselves from, even protect against, what we are in fact called to do in the rest of life. And are we not also told that we cannot remain in these mountain-top experiences but must now go into the Jerusalem of our own lives where there is much to be done, some of it endured? And though we live after the Resurrection, do we not also not fully understand what lies ahead in our own lives?
Jesus both calls us to these sublime moments, and also calls us to go forth from them.
There's more, which relates to all three points and drives them further home. In Lutheran observance, the commemoration of this event is located within the church year where it falls in the progression of the life of Jesus. Which puts it right between observance of his life leading up to his saving work (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany and his Baptism) and the Gesimatide preparation for Lent, Lent itself, the Holy Week commemoration of his suffering and death, and Easter his resurrection.
But in the Roman rite and Eastern Orthodoxy, it is celebrated on 6 August. This was always one of several dates on which it was celebrated. But, on 6 August 1456 the news reached Rome that the Kingdom of Hungary had broken the Siege of Belgrade by the Ottoman Empire, saving the rest of Europe from further Islamic conquest. The siege had been broken on 22 July. In honour of hearing the news, Pope Callixtus III made the Transfiguration a feast to be celebrated in the Roman rite on 6 August. In Eastern Orthodoxy it is the 11th of the Twelve Great Feasts, and also the middle of the Three Feasts of the Saviour in August.
We of course are not bound by that, and there is good reason to locate it where we have, in the order of events in the life of Jesus, since the point of the church year for the life of the church is to celebrate and know the life of Jesus. There are though a couple of interesting co-incidences (?) about the 6 August thing.
One co-incidence (?) is, centuries later, on 6 August 1945, another type of transfiguration would happen. About 70,000 people died instantly and tens of thousands died later from the effects of the transfiguration, so to speak, of the first use of atomic weapons, in Hiroshima, Japan. Thus the date of the news of one key military victory becomes the date of another. Point is, even if either or both of these victories are seen as a turning point for the right side, Jesus calls us to another type of bodily transfiguration altogether, one not brought about by breaking a siege or nuclear radiation, and not a turning point in worldly events, but the final triumph of God over the sin and its wages of spiritual death brought into his Creation by us.
The other coincidence (?) is, 6 August 1991 was the start of the World Wide Web, a service available to the public on the Internet, which allows us to go down into "Jerusalem", where there is much to be done, in ways previously not possible. Now, for example, it would not be two weeks or so before news reached you that defences had held and you are not about to be overrun, now you would see it as it happens. For another, one can go to the top sidebar element on this blog and donate to our beloved synod's efforts to bring relief to people in the aftermath of disasters both in the U.S. and around the world.
Some things to ponder about transfiguration and going down into Jerusalem, whether we celebrate the Transfiguration in the traditional Lutheran way on the last Sunday before Gesimatide, or on 6 August, or some other day, or not at all. Or even if one is subjected to a wannabe Protestant version of the miserable revisionist Roman Catholic Vatican II novus ordo, whose contemporary worship calendar and lectionary has the worst of both worlds, both doing away with Gesimatide altogether like good wannabes (a post on what is Gesimatide and why you don't want to miss it is coming shortly here) but retaining something of the traditional Lutheran placement by relocating the Transfiguration as the last Sunday of a revised Epiphany Season on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday.
See you in "Jerusalem".
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