A Theophany of Communion

Icon of the Transfiguration by Alexander Ainetdinov. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Feast of the Transfiguration (Year A)

Matthew 17:1-9

Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother, John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.

The Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, the last of the biblical theophanies, unfolded the deepest secret of divinity hidden from Moses on Mount Sinai and Elijah on Mount Horeb. 

Unlike the Old Testament theophanies, in which God spoke to his prophet one on one, or “face to face,” three witnesses were present on Mount Tabor. The first peculiarity of this mountain theophany was its communal aspect. Jesus took a trinity of disciples, Peter, James and John, his inner circle.

And he was transfigured before them;  his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.

A trinity of mortals suddenly found themselves beholding a trinity of prophets in the dazzling light of the transfigured Christ. Jesus, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (Moses and Elijah), exchanged greetings with his predecessors.

James and John were speechless, but Peter felt compelled to say or do something, anything.

Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

“He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified,” Mark reported (9:6). Peter was ready to take charge of the situation, though he barely understood what was happening. His instinct for hospitality came forth spontaneously as he offered to house Jesus and his illustrious companions. Jesus was, after all, his house guest. 

While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said,“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 

“The heavens are my throne,
the earth, my footstool.
What house can you build for me?
Where is the place of my rest?” (Isaiah 66:1)

The same voice that spoke to Isaiah now spoke out of the cloud, but it was no longer solitary. The God of Isaiah who could not be confined in houses made by human hands has a Son! With the Father and the Son, the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, was also present in the light of glory. 

This was the second time the son of a carpenter from Nazareth was addressed by the Father as “my beloved Son.” The first time was at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan (Mark 1:11). 

When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid.

The traditional icon above portrays Peter on the left, kneeling, John in the center falling prostrate with his back to the light, and James knocked backward in awe. 

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.  

The unearthly light disappeared, but what an unforgettable experience! It would seem that anyone who witnessed Jesus in such blazing glory should have had enough confidence to stand fast with him in the garden of Gethsemane. But that was not so. And perhaps that was why Jesus ordered silence.

As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

The Cross was the pivot between two extremes. The mortality of the Cross stood as crux between the glory of incorruptible divinity on Mount Tabor, and the glory of incorruptible humanity at the resurrection. The infinite and the finite, divinity and humanity, entered into incorruptible, inseparable, indivisible glory in the multi-personal unity of the Trinity three days after the crucifixion.

Whereas Moses and Elijah only knew God as monad, and therefore spoke to him as a bride to a bridegroom, the marriage of humanity and divinity opened the way to a communion of persons transcending the marriage of two natures. At the Transfiguration, Peter, James and John, a trinity of disciples, received a foretaste of the multi-personal communion of saints in Trinitarian Light.

2 Replies to “A Theophany of Communion”

  1. Wow Gloria! I felt like I was there! I felt His touch as I lay upon the ground dazed and confused with Peter. Thanks to you I have reveled in the Mystery of the Trinity all these weeks!

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