Transfiguration

The Transfiguration of the Lord, so central to the mystical theology of the Eastern Church, has remained marginal for much of the West. The feast itself is often lost in August's exodus.

Happily, the Gospel for Lent's second Sunday brings the Lord's Transfiguration to the fore, in a scene where past, present, and future stand conjoined and illumined.

Rowan Williams, a fine theologian and, now, a beset Archbishop of Canterbury, has a lovely little book of meditations on icons of Christ: The Dwelling of the Light (Eerdmans).

Here is an excerpt:

In the Gospels, the transfiguration story is introduced with the apparently innocent words "after six days" (in Matthew and Mark) or "after about eight days" (in Luke). From early times, commentators have said this is an allusion to the days of creation: the transfiguration is the climax of the creative work of God, either the entrance into the joy and repose of the seventh day or the beginning of the new creation, the eighth day, depending on the kind of symbolism you want to use.

In Jesus, the world of ordinary prosaic time is not destroyed, but it is broken up and reconnected, it works no longer just in straight lines, but in layers and spirals of meaning. We begin to understand how our lives, like those of Moses and Elijah, may have meanings we can't know of in this present moment: the real depth and significance of what we say and do now won't appear until more of the light of Christ has been seen.

And so what we think is critically inportant may not be so; what we think insignficant may be really what changes us for good or evil. Christ's light alone will make the final patern coherent, for each of us as for all human history. And that light shines on the far side of the world's limits, the dawn of the eighth day.

When Jesus is transfigured, it is as if there is a brief glimpse of the end of all things -- the world aflame with God's light.

Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is the author of Rekindling the Christic Imagination.

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