Illuminating Lent: The Transfiguration

February 21, 2016 – February 27, 2016 


The Transfiguration, Donald Jackson in collaboration with Aidan Hart, 2002. The Saint John’s Bible, Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Mark 9: 2-8Mark Transfiguration

What word stands out to you?




As Christians, we are reminded to see God at work in the common occurrences of our lives, in the everyday encounters that we have. We see Christ in the words of encouragement that we might offer or receive, through helping to ease a hurt or assuage fear in the heart of friend, and in the face of the person to whom we have reached out in love and compassion. In Mark’s account of the Transfiguration, however, we are told that Jesus takes his three disciples to a place that is extraordinary: “up a high mountain apart, by themselves.” God reveals something extraordinary to Peter, James, and John in a place quite removed from the ordinary and every day.

Traditionally, the Mount of Transfiguration is held to be Mount Tabor in Galilee. The lone mountain rising from the rolling hills is striking in its solitary grandeur. Climbing to the top of Mount Tabor is not an easy task. It is while they are resting at the summit that this miraculous event happens. Despite being related in the third-person, Jesus’ Transfiguration is meant to be shared with us as an eye-witness account. We become witnesses, also, of this revelation of Christ’s divine nature and the culmination of Law and Prophecy that he represents.

As a participant in this story now, by extension through narrative, I find myself wanting to experience it in deeper ways. What is that place apart, by myself, to which I can retreat and be prepared to encounter Jesus in an extraordinary way?




I find it difficult to find a quiet place, set apart, where I can be alone with God. So much in our lives works against this simple desire of more intimate communion with Christ. The omnipresence of digital media creates an atmosphere in which it is well-nigh impossible to be alone. When we add the busy schedules of our children, the demands of our professions, and the burdens we place upon ourselves to the cyber-word, we realize the difficulties that exist in answering Jesus’ simple call to come to be alone with him. I feel a longing in my heart when I think of the three disciples being with Jesus at the top of the mountain.

I suspect that Peter, James, and John responded to that same longing, glad to be alone with Jesus and awe-struck with the Transfiguration. This is why Peter suggested erecting three tents, to connect the Transfiguration with a place, a place to which they could return for rest and comfort. The story does not record the building of dwellings, nor does scripture recount a return to the Mount of Transfiguration. An essential part of pilgrimage is to know that there is no standing still, only the next stop along the way. Jesus invites us to that next place where he reveals himself to us in new ways. Movement, not stasis, is the essence of pilgrimage.

Part of my pilgrimage of Lent is to set aside all that prevents me from being alone with Jesus and to listen to his invitation to come apart to a separate place.




Jesus’ face attracts my attention immediately in this illumination. It is not the iconic representation of a bearded rabbi with which we are familiar. Rather, this face is something new, something unexpected, something transfigured. There is an energy and freshness to this vision of Christ that is at the same time powerfully attractive and yet strange. Christ’s face is full of humanity; I’m able to see myself in him. While Jesus’ garments, shimmering with dazzling brightness, reveal the essence of a transformed reality, his face reminds me that he is both fully God and fully human. He is part of the world that I inhabit.

Moses and Elijah are depicted very differently, in the Eastern iconographic style—a representation that is rooted in tradition. They, themselves, are not changed. Their transfiguration comes by virtue of being united and fulfilled in Christ. Transformation and redemption are to be found in the “Son, the Beloved”, not in the Law or the Prophets alone.

It is important that Jesus’ feet are not seen in this illumination. He inhabits a place between the earth, upon which Moses and Elijah stand, and heaven, the swirling blue reminiscent of the first day of the Creation illumination. In Christ, we find God’s power to transform our lives on earth. The world needs to know the power of God’s love. I need the transfiguring love of Jesus in my life. To acknowledge that need, that desire, is to begin truly to listen to the voice of Jesus.




O God, you are always ready to hear the voice of our prayers.
Our world is full of violence and hatred; nation against nation,

people against people, belief against belief.

We seek your transforming love to be made manifest

in the midst of the terrible suffering of multitudes.

In our lives we experience fear, loneliness, anxiety, illness, and grief.
Hear the voices of our hearts that seek your loving presence

in a way that transfigures our daily lives.

There is beauty all around us in the world;

our families, our friends, your creation, the joys of work and play.

Help us not to be so overcome with adversity that we fail to see

the blessings in our lives that your love creates.

Too often, in the midst of our busy lives, we fail to notice the faces that surround us.
Give us wisdom not to lose sight of the face of your Son,

in whom we see your glory, the dazzling light that shines in the darkness.

Be with us, in a place set apart, so that we might listen to your voice

and follow the paths of love and service to which you call us.





I love my children. I express that love in many ways. I want what is best for them. I want them not to be satisfied with the way things are, but to always be looking for ways to change the world for the better. Change, after all, is an essential and natural part of life. The old saying is true: When we stop changing, we die.

God loves us. We are described in Scripture as “children of God”. In the beginning, God created us to live in perfect harmony with the world and in full communion with him. God wants what is best for us. Part of that divine desire is for us to actively seek ways to change the world around us and to allow God to change us.

This illumination of the Transfiguration and the scripture that inspires it contain a deep message of change. Moses and Elijah are changed in relation to the Messiah. Jesus is changed in the sight of the disciples. Peter, James, and John are changed in their understanding of their Lord and, therefore, their understanding of themselves.

Part of human nature is to dislike change. The three Apostles attempt to forestall transformation by enshrining the Transfiguration, much like we in the church can avert change through an unhealthy attachment to the institution, rather than to Christ.

We know that God is love. God’s love, in Christ, is dramatically projected in this vision of Transfiguration and is the catalyst by which we are changed. May we so embrace God’s love that we accept the transformation of our lives that God wills.



Becoming Christ-like

One of the most tragic aspects of human civilization is its emphasis on “winners” and “losers.” This stratification can be seen at all levels of society. Children learn this dichotomy between haves and have-nots through the awarding of trophies. While it is true that not every team can win, the emphasis on trophies, rather than on the fulfillment of the game, inculcates an understanding that worth is based upon attainment. The truth of our ultimate worth as beloved of God is obscured.

In the Transfiguration, Jesus’ humanity is shown to be but a part of his true nature: fully human and also fully divine. The brilliance of God’s love overwhelms the earthly manifestations of the incarnation of the Son.

We are not of a dual nature, like Christ. Jesus, nonetheless, dwells within us and the Holy Spirit fills our lives with the fire of God’s love. We, too, have within us the potential for transfiguration, not out of our own power, but through God’s grace. To become more Christ-like, then, is to seek the transfiguring love of God in our lives. Such seeking cannot be merely symbolic, either; it must be practical.

To live in hope of transfiguration is to be purposeful about rejecting the stratification taught by the world around us. There are no trophies for the best or brightest in the kingdom; all persons receive the crown of life. Regardless of any division we could imagine, all persons are equal in God’s eyes. All persons receive God’s love in full measure.

Through the sharing of the narrative of the Transfiguration, is not only Peter, James, and John who are witnesses to this miracle. We are all now part of the story.


The Reverend Mark Goodman, a native of Oklahoma, is Dean of St. John’s Cathedral in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He has served congregations in Ohio, South Carolina, and New Mexico. Before ordination, Mark received degrees in botany, and still maintains an interest in that science. He is a Fellow of Sinai and Synapses, an organization whose work is the deepening of the conversation between science and faith. He is married, with two children, and he enjoys cooking, reading, travelling with his family, and taking long walks with his dog, Jeeves.


One thought on “Illuminating Lent: The Transfiguration

  1. Thanks! I have read three of the excellent daily reflections thus far, and the word that grabbed me was simply “good.” The phrase? “Rabbi, it is good that we are here.” I ask myself if I can make that my daily Lenten phrase extending beyond Lent into each and every moment – wherever, whenever, and whoever God places me. greg

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