Gospel Reflection: The Transfiguration

Today's Gospel (Mark 9:2-10) tells of the Transfiguration of Christ. The story is well known, but not always well understood beyond its visual revelation of God's glory and the Father's own presentation of His Beloved Son.

You will note that, when Christ is transfigured, the Old Testament figures of Moses and Elijah appear, and are talking with Him. Whilst the Old Testament may seem irrelevant in comparison with the Gospels, the presence of these two figures is central to the lesson we are meant to take from this event.

The Transfiguration points us towards the Old Testament, and to its value in teaching us true Christian virtue and love of Christ. Recall the story of Abraham, in the book of Genesis, in which God asked him to sacrifice his only son as a burnt offering. Elijah was an old man, as was his wife, when God blessed them with this child, and so it is shocking to us that God would ask them to sacrifice such a precious gift in such an extreme way. However, perhaps more astonishing is that Abraham obeyed God, and did not refuse Him his only son. God did step in at the last minute and provide a ram in replacement, pleased with Abraham's humility and utter submission to God's will, but the core of the story is Abraham's preference of God's will to anything in his life that he might hold dear.

Where else is this story replicated? On Calvary, of course. God the Father, following the laws of Creation which are based upon justice and love, leads His only Son to the slaughter, to sacrifice Him for the sins of the people (justice must be satisfied, but love causes Him to take the burden of sin on Himself); however, in this story, there is no perfectly-placed ram to save the Son from the execution. God saved Abraham and his son from this ultimate sacrifice out of love, but out of love He did not give Himself a second option.

In the Transfiguration, Christ is dressed in dazzling white by the Father, not only to represent His spotlessness, but also as a preparation for this ultimate sacrifice, just as bodies were anointed in preparation for the burial (Luke 7:37-38 is another foreshadowing of the sacrifice, as the woman anoints Christ with perfume and tears). Moses and Elijah represent the prophets of the Old Testament who foretold of the sacrifice that would bring about our salvation, and here they are, talking with the Spotless Lamb Himself. Their presence is a visual sign of the completion of scripture, and the ultimate reign of God's will over all Creation.

But what can we take from this is Christian virtue and love of Christ? Like Abraham, we must learn to prefer nothing to the love of Christ, and we must deny Him nothing if He asks it. He will repay us a thousand times over what we give Him, but we must humble ourselves out of complete reverence and love for Him without expecting to be repaid, just as Abraham expected nothing in return for His sacrifice. He was acting the words that Christ would declare in John 4:34, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me".

The love of Christ is sweeter than anything we can find on earth, and by our fasting and abstinence in Lent, we are making our bodies a physical manifestation of that, and this external sacrifice diffuses into our souls and guides us on the road of growth and praise in God's grace. God's grace will teach you how to walk in His ways and love Him above all things if you let Him; as we see in today's Gospel, He will always fulfill His promise and will lead you to eternal life with Him.

~ Iona Robinson, University of Bristol (CSN Website Manager)

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