I have not been to the Mount of Transfiguration, but I have seen it. The view from the ruins of the ancient church at Umm Qais in Jordan (ancient Gedara) is of Tabor some twenty miles away in Israel. At Umm Qais, the connection with the miracle of the Gedarane swine is most prominent, but as I visited I found that my attention kept turning to Tabor and that strange event we call the Transfiguration.
The collect for the Feast of the Transfiguration petitions God to deliver us from the “disquietude of this world,” a sentiment rather easily invoked when one sees the apparatus of war marring the landscape. Just down from the church is a bunker dating from the 1967 war; to see the vulnerability of Israel from the Golan is also to understand in some measure the geopolitics that seem to scar the Middle East even beyond the third and fourth generations since Balfour.
A foreboding of death — but also of eventual triumph! — also seems to have gathered around Jesus as he took Peter, John, and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.
And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him . . . [A] cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9: 28-36).
In the Transfiguration, Jesus once again reveals himself as a new Moses, whose face also shone (Exodus 34:29-35) after an encounter with the heavenly world, and prefigured similar experiences had by other disciples (3 Nephi 28: 13-17). The experience was transformative for the disciples, for whom Jesus was transfigured from more than just a wise rabbi but was revealed to them as the Son of God (2 Peter 1:13-21).
We who profess Christianity at some point must desire to experience Jesus in similar ways — “for the LORD our God is the Holy One” (Psalm 99) — and build monuments to remember it.
The Feast of The Transfiguration
The Collect: O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in his beauty; who with you, O Father, and you, O Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Sufjan Stevens’s remarkable “Transfiguration” is the obvious musical choice today.
“Lost in the cloud, a voice / Lamb of God, we draw near / Lost in the cloud, a sign / Son of man, son of God.”