The word ‘epiphany’ means an unveiling, and, for the disciples, today’s gospel is just that. When they accompanied Jesus up the mountain, they saw his face transfigured and he talked with Moses and Elijah. it was a moment in which the mundanity of daily life was drawn aside to reveal the Divine glory of Jesus, the Son of God. We hear that his clothes were white as the light. It would have been an awesome experience.
When at last the disciples spoke to Jesus, it was Peter first of all. And what is the first thing that he said? ” Lord, it is wonderful to be here.” They felt as though they were not worthy; they sensed on some level that they were outside the situation they saw: witnesses indeed, but not themselves the light that Jesus shone.
And it is the same for us when, in our own lives, we experienced those epiphany moments. Ours may not be quite as fantastic to the eyes as the disciples experienced. But we nonetheless experience those moments in which we sense the presence of God. And it leaves us with nothing to say but “it is wonderful to be here.”
When we experience this presence, our gut reaction is to stay there in that moment forever. We want it to last. So did Peter and the disciples, when they suggested that they pitch tents for Jesus Moses and Elijah. This is what we might call a ‘camera moment’, in which, when we see something extraordinary, our first instinct is to capture it, rest within it, to press pause, to make it everlasting in some way, to keep it as a memento. The reaction of the disciples was a good one: they recognised that they were inside a wonderful experience. But, just as they were talking to Jesus about pitching these tents, our Lord God himself spoke. And he said this: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour. Listen to him.’
At this, the disciples made another gut reaction: they fell on their faces in awe, even in fear. We know that they must have been afraid, otherwise Jesus would not have said “Do not be afraid.”
Our own experience of the presence of God comes in many different ways. Often, they come in ways we do not expect. We can learn about God’s love for us, not only through an amazing view, or through a good work of someone in our life, but also through pain and suffering, and even through the diurnal mundanity of life. God comes to us, breathes through our own desire, in ways we cannot expect. And although we may not see Jesus himself, white as the light, it is that same Person, that same God, lifts us to him, just as Jesus lifted the disciples on that mountain top, and drew them to himself.
We can call what the disciples experienced a ‘prayerful encounter’. This is because prayer is quite simply an experience of communication with God. And in this way, we also are fused to this transfiguration, we are part of it through our own experience of God’s presence. Through our belief and our love for God, we are called in our own way to be transfigured, to be lifted into communion with him. We are part of that lineage of which Saint Paul wrote: “This grace had already been granted to us, in Christ Jesus, before the beginning of time, but it has only been revealed by the Appearing of our saviour Christ Jesus.” So, we ask for the grace to live in God, to listen to Jesus as God commanded the disciples to do on the mountain. And, as we follow Jesus on this rocky road, we ask for the grace to not be afraid, and to keep her eyes fixed on Jesus.
Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone. There in their presence he was transfigured: his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared to them; they were talking with him. Then Peter spoke to Jesus. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He was still speaking when suddenly a bright cloud covered them with shadow, and from the cloud there came a voice which said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour. Listen to him.’ When they heard this the disciples fell on their faces overcome with fear. But Jesus came up and touched them. ‘Stand up,’ he said ‘do not be afraid.’ And when they raised their eyes they saw no one but only Jesus.
As they came down from the mountain Jesus gave them this order. “Tell no one about this vision until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.”
The Gospel of the Lord