In the gospel (Mt. 17:1-9), our Lord takes Peter, James and John up on a high mountain and is transfigured before them. Our Lord’s face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. Moses and Elijah appear and converse with our Lord. Peter wants to build three tents on the spot but while he is speaking we are told that a bright cloud cast a shadow over them. This immediately gets our attention, something utterly unique is occurring. How can a cloud be “bright” and what does it mean that it casts a shadow over them?
From the cloud comes a voice, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Immediately upon hearing this voice the apostles fall prostrate and we are told that they were very much afraid. The “falling prostrate” was automatic. There was no question. It had to be done. The fear also was automatic. It too was the most appropriate and really only true response that could be given. The fear given was not our so common little fear of saving our own skin and preserving our little self and ego. No, it was the visceral fear of the sinful creature suddenly brought into the presence of the One with no sin, the One who alone is holy.
In the very beginning we are told that humanity (in Adam and Eve) walked in the garden in the company of God and freely talked with Him. Through sin, we were cast out of the garden, we lost that free and intimate relationship with God not because God is wrathful as we so often are but because God is truth and cannot abide the un-truth of sin, because God is good and cannot abide the un-good of sin, because God is beauty and cannot abide the un-beauty of sin.
Humanity’s deepest yearning is to once again abide in the garden with God and to live in that free relationship. The history of the people of Israel can be read, in part, as a striving to regain that intimate friendship. Moses (the one person so highly favored by God) begged to see the glory of God and God only granted him the briefest view “of his back” because God knows that no creature wounded by sin can look on his face and live (Ex. 33:18-23).
Jesus Christ is that greatest and most sacred mystery of the Word of God enfleshed (who emptied himself of glory and took the form of a slave) who has come to take upon himself the weight of our sin and be that bridge, that sheep gate and shepherd to return us to intimate relationship with the Father.
It is no coincidence that in our Lord’s discourse of the Last Judgement (Mt. 25:31-46) it is the Son who returns in glory to judge humanity. Even the sinner can look on Jesus Christ who is the Word enfleshed. The one we looked upon and who was pierced for our offences. But only those found righteous through Christ, who have been thoroughly washed clean of sin will enter the presence of the Father who can abide no sin.
Our deepest yearning for full friendship with God is so entwined with our deepest fear of knowing how far we have indeed fallen. But God is merciful. Christ comes over to the three disciples locked in fear. He touches them and says, “Rise, and do not be afraid … Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
We walk toward Jerusalem with our Lord…