(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
Every year, on the second Sunday of Lent, we hear about the Transfiguration of Jesus. The Church knows it is an important moment in Jesus' life before his passion, death, and resurrection. St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke each has a slightly different description of this event. St. Luke is the only one who does not use the word "transfigure," though, so this reflection does not specifically discuss what that might mean. (If you want to read about transfiguration instead, click here.) St. Luke is also the only one who mentions praying. We will consider Jesus' prayer.
Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.
We know immediately that this change is important—not so much for Jesus, since he is praying and cannot see his own face, but for Peter and John and James. Why is it important for them to see this change to his face and clothes? The word “dazzling” makes us think that Jesus’ clothes are suddenly radiant, without a speck of darkness, almost too bright to look at. Jesus has become clothed in Light itself. What can this mean? What is this light they are catching a glimpse of?
Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
Why is this important for Peter and John and James to see? Both Elijah and Moses are rooted in the history of Israel, in the disciples' history, in our history. They live hundreds of years before Jesus, yet here they are, speaking with him. Elijah is the prophet the Bible says will come to announce the arrival of the Messiah. Yet here he is now, appearing as if out of the pages of scripture, to speak with Jesus. Here is Moses, too, bursting into time, the one who first encountered God on a mountain. Moses, who leads the people out of slavery into freedom to live as children of God. What can it mean that these people appear to speak with Jesus?
These people, long dead, appear in glory. Whose glory is it?
Moses and Elijah speak of Jesus' departure. Peter and John and James must wonder what this means. We know what this departure is, but the disciples do not. We wonder what kind of advice Moses and Elijah give Jesus about leading people into freedom. We are not told. That is not what Peter and John and James have come here to learn.
Jesus will soon accomplish this departure, they say, and it will happen at Jerusalem. What will the disciples think when Jesus soon announces that they will head to Jerusalem? Will they not worry? They will not want him to depart.
Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.
Why does St. Luke include this detail? What does he need us to know? This sentence seems to point to two more events—events in Jesus' future.
We know of another time when Peter and his companions are weighed down with sleep. After the Last Supper, when Jesus takes his friends to the Garden of Olives. He asks them to stay awake with him and pray, but,
When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief (Luke 22:45)
When they wake in the Garden of Olives, do they remember the moment of the Transfiguration, staying awake for prayer? What would they have seen in the Garden of Olives, if they had stayed awake? Would they have been comforted? When Jesus is arrested afterwards, do they remember his glory and the two men who stand with him?
Glory is the magnificence of God's presence, of God being near. St. Luke says it is Jesus' glory. Do Peter and John and James realize who Jesus is?
The two men who stand with Jesus—this seems to point to another event, too. On the morning of the Resurrection, when the women run from the tomb to tell the apostles what they have seen, how,
suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them (Luke 24:4),
do Peter and James and John remember the two men at the Transfiguration, standing with Jesus whose clothes have become dazzling white?
Jesus brings Peter and John and James up the mountain with him on purpose. He needs them to know. God needs them to know. When Jesus is arrested, when he dies on the cross, when he is buried, when the tomb is empty, God needs them to connect the dots.
Moses leads people to freedom
Elijah announces the Messiah
Jesus transfigures into glory
Jesus suffers, dies, and rises again
Jesus brings them to pray with him on the mountain so that they are rooted in the Plan of God, because when it all begins to happen, they cannot pray. This prayer on the mountain of the Transfiguration prepares them for faith and understanding that comes much later.
What can we learn about prayer? We can see that prayer prepares us—for times when we cannot pray because of grief, for times when we are bewildered and confused, for times of faith and understanding that arrive later. Prayer roots us in the Plan of God. The Church knows the Transfiguration is an important moment in Jesus' life before his passion, death, and resurrection. It is important for us, too.