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Soon after entering the month of February we are taken by our liturgical calendar to the top of the mountain, to the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus. If you remember this event, Jesus is on the mountain with some of his disciples and he is transfigured right before their eyes, as his clothes become dazzling white and his appearance glows. Add to that the  entrance of the two greatest figures from the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah, who have a conversation with Jesus, and we come away with a head-scratcher of a story. What does it mean? What significance does this story hold in the narrative of the ministry of Jesus?

I find the Transfiguration to be a story of transition. Jesus takes time out from his daily activities of healing and speaking to the people about the kingdom of God, goes to the mountain and is  transfigured… transformed before the eyes of some of his trusted disciples. But something besides the appearance of Jesus changes in this episode. When Jesus and the disciples come down from the mountain Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem. In other words, the very ministry of Jesus changes from this moment on. Now, Jesus sets himself to move toward the seat of power, both governmental and religious. Now he begins the final sequence of events that become for us the center of our faith and salvation.

Liturgically, the Transfiguration is a transition for us as well. Coming at the end of the season of Epiphany, we meet the transfigured Jesus, along with Moses and Elijah, on the mountainside along with the disciples. We, too, are left to interpret this event and to try to understand its significance. And, when we come down from the mountain, we find a liturgical change as well. Within days we are met with Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent. Just as Jesus begins his journey to the cross, so do we. As the Synoptic Gospels start to reach their climax and as the events unfold which lead to crucifixion we are brought along as witnesses so that we may grapple with these events which lead to our salvation.

Many Biblical scholars see in the transfigured Jesus a foreshadowing of the risen Christ, a foretaste of what is to come. That is why this becomes such a good transition story for us. Wedged between Epiphany, the season where we concentrate of Jesus beginning his ministry and becoming known to more and more people as the Messiah, and the season of Lent, during which we begin to learn what it means for Jesus actually to be the Messiah, the Transfiguration shows that God the Father is at work in the one whose appearance changes, and that God’s glory will be made known. But the way God’s glory is revealed is so different from the ways we humans seek and find glory in this life. For Jesus to reveal God’s glory and power and love, first he must journey to the seat of power and face the power brokers who think they know what true glory is. He must face the destructive power of this world in order to show God’s loving power that prevails. He must face the rejection of human society so that he may show God’s acceptance of a redeemed humanity won on the cross. And he must die in order to defeat death, and rise so that we, too, might claim this victory. But for now, we begin this transfiguration, this transformation of our own, as we witness the Jesus who, foreshadowing the future, begins the journey which leads to our salvation.