The Readings for the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord
(18th Saturday, Tempus per Annum C2)
We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.Matthew 16:24
BY A STRANGE COINCIDENCE of calendars today’s Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord (on the Gregorian Calendar) is falling on the Hebrew date of the Ninth Day of the month of Av. (This year, since the 9th is a Sabbath, the commemoration is moved to the 10th day of the month.) The 9th Day of the Month of Av is the date on which the Temple of Solomon was destroyed by the Bablonians. And it was the day on which the Romans destroyed the second temple. A number of other sad events are commemorated on this day, making it a day of fasting and mourning. Since mourning is forbidden on the Sabbath, this year’s “Ninth” is actually on the Tenth, as noted above. The coincidence of the 9th of Av and the 6th of August strikes me as one worthy of meditation for a number of reasons.
Today is the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, with the follow-up bombing of Nagasaki tomorrow. That’s a transfiguration and destruction of a sort engineered by man. I no longer believe the “number of lives saved vrs number of lives lost” arithmetic that is used to justify the bombings: we can never know what would have been. We can only know the evil that happened, among which was the raising of two whole generations in perpetual fear of nuclear war. That’s the power of the nuclear deterrent.
Another level of meditation is found in the time Jesus said “if you tear down the temple I will raise it up in three days.” As the Gospel adds, “he was speaking of the temple of his body” (John 2:21). Building on that level we are all part of the Body of Messiah (I Corinthians 12:27), each believer is a part of the Temple he raised up. And each one of us has a body that is the Temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19).
There is a tradition in Judaism of reading a passage from Isaiah on this Shabbat (before the Fast) that describes what is called “The Third Temple”. This is interesting to me because some protestants view any “third temple” as an act prefiguring their literal reading of the Book of Revelation, so the Tish B’Av has in it some future apocalypse overlap as well. Although the major break between Jews who followed Yeshua and Jews who did not do so would not come until the 13os (when Bar Kochba was given Messianic titles) somehow the destruction of Jerusalem refocused the Church almost entirely on the Parousia: we have no earthly home anywhere.
There’s a mosaic in Ravenna, Italy. Floating over a grassy field filled with sheep, safely grazing, a cross is surrounded by a field of stars and radiant light. It’s indicated (pointed to) by radiant beings. There are trees. It’s beautiful and nothing like a Crucifix as we might see in a Church today. (When a Crucifix was first presented – in a Greek Church – the Latin Bishop thought it might be scandalous.) In the center of the cross there’s the Face of the Crucified, shining in glory. It is, as I mentioned yesterday, an image of the Cross as the glory of the Messiah.
Now, look again. On either side of the floating Cross are symbols of the Torah and the Prophets, Moses to the left and Elijah to the right. There are three sheep, Peter, James, and John. And a hand comes from heaven. This is the Transfiguration depicted as a Crucifixion.
The Apostles who had seen the Transfiguration ran away at the Crucifixion even though the latter was intended to be a comfort to them during the former. If he is God, as he is in the Transfiguration, then all things point to him even the darkest time of his Crucifixion. In fact, the latter, more than the former, is his glorification. Yet, they still ran away.
The meditation arises that things that are good might be seen as bad, and things that are bad might be seen as good. And, furthermore, what we think of as bad and good might not be, really, those things. God’s ways might be as far above us as we can imagine and then more.
Of course, none of this will apply next year, when the calendars do not overlap in the same way. (Next year the Fast is in July.) But this year, seeing Christ Glorified in the Darkness, we must ask:
When things get dark how can we refrain from running away before the light breaks through?