Jesus’ transfiguration on Mount Tabor has its primary Lenten meaning. The Son of God is given a special revelation of his coming suffering. Here, the Father gives him that loving reassurance, almost in advance, as a resource, which he can’t find in his agony on the Mount of Olives on the night of Holy Thursday.
Radiating from this primary meaning, there is so much to contemplate and think about in Jesus’ transfiguration. For us, it is a gentle light, which guides us and makes us think about our own journey.
The Jewish reading for the days of Purim (a feast of liberation from the ill intentions of Haman) gives us an interesting connection. It is about the details of the vestment of the high priest. The description of the dazzling beauty of it invites us to connect it with the beauty of Jesus’ transfiguration. ‘The High Priest’s garments are gorgeous, made from the most expensive fabrics, in stunning colours of gold, blue, and crimson, and adorned with the best precious stones. These precious stones embedded in the High Priest’s hoshen (breastplate) represents the whole nation. “Aaron shall carry the names of the sons of Israel on the breastpiece of decision over his heart, when he enters the sanctuary, for remembrance before the Lord all times” /Exod 28:29/. Similarly, the names of the tribes of Israel are engraved on two lazuli stones on the shoulders of the garment.’ Interestingly, this description of the priestly vestment (‘Transfiguration’ of the High Priest) is juxtaposed to the passage of animal sacrifice (Lev 1-7, and 8). The Jewish sages believed that ‘just as offerings/sacrifice effect atonement, so too, priestly vestments symbolically effect atonement.’ It is mind-blowing and gives a shiver to see our Lord Transfigured as the one who stands there as our High Priest. He is offering his yes to the Father, the most important offering and sacrifice. He wants to give his life for us. The rest of the scene is a profound mystery.
The second connection that we could raise is a topical image. These days we have a mini-version of a banal transfiguration. When we put on our masks. We become ‘changed’. People become different, as part of their identity becomes veiled from others. ‘Ralph Lee, an American puppeteer often speaks about aspects of wearing masks and costumes and asks: Does a mask hide certain aspect of the wearer? Or give the person the freedom or/ and responsibilities to become someone else?’ Let us think about it in terms of our Lord’s transfiguration. With his new glorified appearance, actually, Jesus is not putting on a mask or a different outfit, but he is revealing his true identity. On Mount Tabor, he completely ‘unmasks’ himself. He puts on the responsibility of our redemption, and he does it in utmost freedom. Is not Lent in invitation to reveal ourselves fully to God, to Him, and to each other? Let us think about this symbol of the ‘mask’ in terms of our Lenten preparation.
The third image I would like to share is the story of an egg. It is from a children’s tale by Dan Pagis (The Egg that Disguised Itself). It might challenge us to think about our Lenten journey; where we would like to arrive? ‘Bored and lonely, the egg is looking to be something else, an artificial identity constructed by costumes; limited by its physical form - a round egg - it is looking to free itself from its shape. The egg tries disguise after disguise, but in vain. Its “egginess” always shows until at the end, when, found by the mother hen, it develops into its true self, a baby chick.’ And that’s when true growth comes!
Perhaps a deeper look can make us see that until the Holy Spirit of Lent finds us we are like the egg. Never satisfied with ourselves. We are trying so many things, sometimes hiding, disguising and concealing our feelings and thoughts in certain situations, hiding from discrimination, or simply trying to fit in with where we are. Lent and Easter, this is what we celebrate today, will reveal our true identity. Easter will help us to accept our true identity - deeply rooted in the life of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.
(Applied resource, JTS meditation ‘Dr Ofra Arieli Backenroth, “Wearing Masks”’)
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..