The Feast of Corpus Christi

 

One of the Minor Ecclesiastical Feast Days that is largely ignored today, may actually hold an important message for the Twentyfirst Century Church. The Sunday after Trinity Sunday is the Sunday of the Feast of Corpus Christi. Corpus Christi (Latin for Body of Christ) is a Christian feast in honour of the Holy Eucharist. It was originally assigned to the Thursday following Trinity Sunday, thereby mirroring Holy Thursday, the Thursday of Holy Week, the day on which Christians commemorate The Last Supper of Jesus Christ and his apostles, seen as the first Holy Eucharist. Many English-speaking countries celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi on the Sunday after Trinity Sunday — on the Sunday after the traditional Thursday celebration in other countries. The significance of this feast stems from the first time Jesus served the Eucharist to his disciples.

 

Mat 26:26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is My body."

Mat 26:27 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you.

Mat 26:28 "For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

 

St. Paul pointed to the Eucharist as the primary reason for coming to Church. “Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper” (1 Cor 11:20). Through the Body and blood of Christ, St. Paul indicated that we have communion (fellowship/interaction) with Christ.

 

1 Cor 10:16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?

1 Cor 10:17 For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.

 

During the Middle Ages, the Eucharistic bread was perceived to be the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to remain always with his faithful (Matt 28:18-20).

 

Mat 28:18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.

Mat 28:19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Mat 28:20 "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.

 

The Eucharist was identified as the Church’s Celebration of the Passover by St. Paul, who wrote: “Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor 5:7-8).

In the Old Testament Tabernacle there were three articles of furniture in the Holy Place. There was the Lampstand, which represents the revelation of the Holy Spirit in the Word of God that was given to the Church. The Golden Altar Of Incense was also in the Holy Place. This reminds us of the prayers and praise of God’s people. Then, there was the Table of Shewbread—the Bread of the Presence, which reminds us of our Communion with God in the Body and Blood of Christ. On The Table of Shewbread were 12 loaves of Bread and a flagon of wine. These items were an integral part of God’s pattern of worship given to the Hebrew Nation. When the bread and wine were withheld from this Table of the Bread of the Presence, the consequences were dire to the nation of Israel.

 

Joel 1:9 The grain offering and the drink offering Have been cut off from the house of the LORD; The priests mourn, who minister to the LORD.

Joel 1:10 The field is wasted, The land mourns; For the grain is ruined, The new wine is dried up, The oil fails.

Joel 1:11 Be ashamed, you farmers, Wail, you vinedressers, For the wheat and the barley; Because the harvest of the field has perished.

Joel 1:12 The vine has dried up, And the fig tree has withered; The pomegranate tree, The palm tree also, And the apple tree; All the trees of the field are withered; Surely joy has withered away from the sons of men.

Joel 1:13 Gird yourselves and lament, you priests; Wail, you who minister before the altar; Come, lie all night in sackcloth, You who minister to my God; For the grain offering and the drink offering Are withheld from the house of your God.

Joel 1:14 Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly; Gather the elders And all the inhabitants of the land Into the house of the LORD your God, And cry out to the LORD.

 

Later in the history of Israel, Malachi says that the nation of Israel had disrespected the Table of the Bread of the Presence—The Table of the Lord. This complaint was part of a larger indictment of priesthood and leaders of Israel who were offering blemished sacrifices and failing to obey the Word of the Lord.

 

Mal 1:6 "A son honors his father, And a servant his master. If then I am the Father, Where is My honor? And if I am a Master, Where is My reverence? Says the LORD of hosts To you priests who despise My name. Yet you say, 'In what way have we despised Your name?'

Mal 1:7 "You offer defiled food on My altar. But say, 'In what way have we defiled You?' By saying, 'The table of the LORD is contemptible.'

Mal 1:8 And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, Is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, Is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?" Says the LORD of hosts.

Mal 1:12 "But you profane it, In that you say, 'The table of the LORD is defiled; And its fruit, its food, is contemptible.'

 

This kind of disregard for the Word of God and disrespect for the Table of the Lord has periodically been a problem in the Church. In the opening chapters of Revelation, St. John relates messages to seven churches in the Province of Asia. In chapter two, the people of the Church at Ephesus is said to have left their first love. Many people think that this is referring to Jesus, but a close study of the words indicates that this is not so.

 

Rev 2:1 "To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, 'These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:

Rev 2:2 "I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars;

Rev 2:3 "and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary.

Rev 2:4 "Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.

Rev 2:5 "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place; unless you repent.

 

“First love” in the Greek is Protos Agape. Protos means above all in supremacy. Agape means love, but can also be translated “Love Feast.” This was a term used by the early church and many of the Church Fathers as synonymous with Holy Communion or, as we call it, the Eucharist. Acts 2:46 suggests that this was done daily in the Church, and Acts 20:7 indicates that it was at least done weekly. This was the covenant meal for the early Christians. It is very probable that the people of Ephesus had lost their love for the Precence of the resurrected and ascended Christ in the Eucharist—the Agape Love Feast. Perhaps the Church at Ephesus was not offering the Agape to its members on a daily or even weekly basis. The Church at Ephesus had lost its first love.

This has happened periodically throughout the history of the Church. During the Middle Ages many believers only receieved the Eucharist sporadically, in some places only a few times during the year. This was one of the things that caused the decline in the spirituality of the Church and led eventually to what we call “the Reformation”. In modern Protestantism, as well as among many “Catholics”, there is no real love of the Body and Blood of Christ—the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

The appearance of Corpus Christi seems to have occurred during one of these times when the Church had lost its love of the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The development of this feast in the Christian calendar was primarily due to the petitions of the thirteenth-century Augustinian nun Juliana of Liège. From her youth she claimed that God had been instructing her to establish a feast day for the Eucharist and later in life petitioned the learned Dominican Hugh of St-Cher, Jacques Pantaléon (Archdeacon of Liège and later Pope Urban IV) and Robert de Thorete, Bishop of Liège. At that time bishops could order feasts in their dioceses, so in 1246 Bishop Robert convened a synod and ordered a celebration of Corpus Christi to be held each year thereafter.

The celebration of Corpus Christi only became widespread after both Juliana and Bishop Robert had died. In 1263 Pope Urban IV investigated and validated claims of a miracle in which blood had issued from a host. One alternate theory is that the blood was actually a clustering of Serratia marcescens, a reddish bacterium that often grows on bread. Regardless, in 1264 he issued the papal bull Transiturus in which Corpus Christi was made a feast day. A new liturgy for the celebration was written by Thomas Aquinas.[1]

Through the establishment of the feast of Corpus Christi, there gradually developed the practice of processions in honor of the Eucharist and then the rite of benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Eucharistic processions appear as early as the 11th century, at least in England. As devotion to looking upon the host grew, these became a way to honor Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

As the congregation processes, the community is not only reminded of the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but is also reminded of a second spiritual truth. This truth, which the Church also periodically forgets, is that the Church itself is the Body of Christ. St. Paul wrote: “Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually” (1 Cor 12:27). “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Corpus Christi retains its theological significance as a celebration of God’s gift of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist to the church and world as the food and drink of everlasting life. Moreover, in the celebration of this feast, the Church, as the body of Christ, is reminded to let the Holy Spirit fashion it more and more into bread and drink for the world.

 

Eph 1:22 And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church,

Eph 1:23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

Eph 5:30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.

 

St. Paul says that the Church is the Body of Christ. If His body and blood are a part of us and we embrace His love, then we become to the world His body. It is only through Christ in us that many people in the world will ever see or interact with God. We are all a part of the Body of Christ. No one person makes up His body. The corporate Church is the Body of Christ and each of us are organs or members of that body.

 

1 Cor 12:13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body; whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free; and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.

1 Cor 12:14 For in fact the body is not one member but many.

1 Cor 12:15 If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body?

1 Cor 12:16 And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body?

1 Cor 12:17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?

1 Cor 12:18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.

1 Cor 12:19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be?

1 Cor 12:20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.

1 Cor 12:21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."

1 Cor 12:22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.

1 Cor 12:23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty,

1 Cor 12:24 but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it,

1 Cor 12:25 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.

1 Cor 12:26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

1 Cor 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.

1 Cor 12:28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.

1 Cor 12:29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles?

1 Cor 12:30-31 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.

That better way is to love God and to love one another in the same way that Christ loves us—total acceptance and love without any conditions.

1 Cor 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.

1 Cor 13:2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

1 Cor 13:3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

 

Love is the most important glue that holds the Body of Christ (the Church) together. We all need to ask ourselves whether or not we love the presence of Christ in the Church, and whether or not we love the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Because we are all a part of the Body of Christ, God set in the Church leaders who would edify or build us up for the work of the ministry.

 

Eph 4:11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,

Eph 4:12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,

Eph 4:13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;

Eph 4:14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,

 

God does not want us to be tossed about or carried away. He wants us to be stable and consistent in our lives so that we can fulfill our destiny—the giftings or purpose for which each of us has been called. That is how we fulfill Christ’s commission that has for so long been identified as the purpose of our being a part of the Body of Christ.

 

Mat 28:19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Mat 28:20 "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.

 

Jesus’ own teaching on the importance of “eating His Body and drinking His Blood” is an indictment against those Churches and Christians today who do not reverence the importance of the Table of the Lord today.

 

John 6:48 "I am the bread of life.

John 6:49 "Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead.

John 6:50 "This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die.

John 6:51 "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world."

John 6:52 The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?"

John 6:53 Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.

John 6:54 "Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

John 6:55 "For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.

John 6:56 "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.

John 6:57 "As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.

John 6:58 "This is the bread which came down from heaven; not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever."

 

Corpus Christi is a Minor Feast whose celebration would benefit our society and our churches. This feast reminds us that through Communion with His body and blood and by our embracing of the Love of Christ, we become identified with Him as members of His body and blood.

 

 

THE FEAST OF TRANSFIGURATION

 

 

On August 6th we will celebrate the Feast of Transfiguration. This Major Feast Day commemorates the transformation of Jesus in His appearance with Moses and Elijah before Peter, James, and John. This incident in the life of Christ appears in all three Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 17:1-13; Mark 9:1-13; Luke 9:28-36), but is omitted by St. John. For us in the CEC, this begins the Season of Kingdomtide (green clergy and altar vestments); a time for us to concentrate on the present reality of the Kingdom of God and our place in His Kingdom. The following selection of scripture relates the account of Jesus’ transformation before three of His disciples.

 

Luke 9:28 Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray.
Luke 9:29 As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening.
Luke 9:30 And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah,
Luke 9:31 who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
Luke 9:32 But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him.
Luke 9:33 Then it happened, as they were parting from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.
Luke 9:34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud.
Luke 9:35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!”

Matthew 17:6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid.
Matthew 17:7 But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.”
Matthew 17:8 When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
Matthew 17:9 Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”

 

We believe that Christ our Savior was Incarnate from birth as both fully human and fully divine, without any confusion or contradiction in His being. His humanity had been clearly revealed to his followers. Now, three of those that he was training to lead in the establishment of His Church, were given a startling glimpse of His Deity and Pre-incarnate glory.

This dazzling brightness that emanated from His whole Body was produced by an interior shining of His Divinity. False Judaism had rejected the Messiah, and now true Judaism, represented by Moses and Elias, the Law and the Prophets, recognized and adored Him. God the Father proclaimed Him His only-begotten and well-loved Son. By this glorious manifestation Jesus the Messiah, who had just foretold His Passion to the Apostles (Matthew 16:21), spoke with Moses and Elijah of the trials which awaited Him at Jerusalem .In doing so, He strengthened the faith of his three disciples, in preparation for the terrible ordeal of the Passion of Christ, of which they were to be witnesses.

 

WHO DO MEN SAY THAT I AM?

 

To fully understand the importance of the Transfiguration and to place it in context with the Ministry of Christ, we must think about a related scriptural and spiritual event that had directly preceded it. The Transfiguration took place about a week after one of the most significant revelations of Jesus to his disciples. The events leading to the Transfiguration began with a discourse with Jesus’ disciples near Caesarea Philippi. A question posed by Jesus culminated with the confession of St. Peter.

At this moment of Jesus’ ministry there was apparent confusion, even among the Twelve, as to who Jesus was. The significance and meaning of the Incarnation was not understood, but it was clear that Jesus was someone who was spiritually significant for that generation.

 

Mat 16:13 When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?"

Mat 16:14 So they said, "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

Mat 16:15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"

Mat 16:16 Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Mat 16:17 Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.

Mat 16:18 "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.

Mat 16:19 "And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

 

Back in the ‘70’s we used to sing a song that went:

Who do you say that I am?

Tell me, Who do you say that I am?

A prophet of old or the crucified lamb…

Who do you say that I am?

 

This is a question that all of us must answer, because that answer will determine what kind of faith (none, little, or great) that we have in Christ. In fact, the early church wrestled with that question in the first four Ecumenical Counsels, which ended in us reciting the Nicene Creed today.

Even in the early church age there was a heresy that revered John the Baptist above Jesus Christ. This group was called the Sabians, i.e. Baptists (from sâbi, to baptize, to wash). On account of their great reverence for John the Baptist, they were called "Christians of John." Their origin is uncertain. A remnant of them still exists, in Persia on the eastern banks of the Tigris. Their sacred language is an Aramaic dialect of some importance for comparative philology. At present they speak Arabic and Persian. Their system is very complicated with the prevalence of the heathen element and comes nearest to Manichaeism. A lot of their churches were destroyed in the bombing of Iraq during the Gulf War. Obviously, this heretical group was not under the protection and blessing of God.

Old Testament history ultimately placed Christ’s decisive question before Israel. “Who do you say that I am?” It is a question that only faith’s affirmation can answer. But all who read Israel’s history are confronted with it whether they know it or not, and do give answer—if only by their refusal to give answer—one way or another. The Christian, of course must reply: “Thou art the Christ [Messiah], the Son of the living God.” After he has said that—if he knows what he has said—Old Testament history assumes for him a new meaning as part of a redemptive drama leading on to its conclusion in Christ.

In the centuries before Christ, Jewish sages (rabbis, teachers of the Law) had concentrated on applying Old Testament Law to every aspect of Jewish life. Their goal was to “build a hedge” around the Law, explaining each command’s implications so thoroughly that no one would break it being unaware. This intent, motivated by deep respect for the Scriptures, seems commendable. But, in fact, it represented a dangerous approach to Scripture and created a legalistic attitude that distorted the Law’s intent.

Jesus draws attention to two flaws in the approach, which had been enthusiastically endorsed by the Pharisee party. First, traditions of the Scribes and Pharisees had taken on the authority of Scripture itself, so that the “commandments of men” were often substituted for—and even contradicted—God’s commands. Second, in focusing on what man must do to keep the Law rather than on what God graciously does for man, the hearts of the legalists became cold. Religion became a matter of externals rather than of personal relationship. Jesus’ focus on people and on servant-hood threatened the structure that tradition erected and so aroused the active hostility of the religious elite.

Jesus asked His disciples: "But who do you say that I am?" This was the point at which Christ was aiming His discussion. The emphasis is on the word “you.” “But you (in contrast to others), who do you say that I am?” Peter acted as spokesman for the disciples. His confession of Jesus as the Christ is more fully given in Mt 16:16, which adds the words, “the Son of the living God.” Jesus is both the promised Messiah and the unique Son of God.

Who is Jesus? (16:13–14) It is still an insult to call Jesus just a good man, or even a great man as many so-called scholars do today. Anything less than acknowledging Jesus as God the Son defames and denies Him.

Mat 16:16 Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." “Christ” is the Gk. translation of “Messiah,” meaning the Anointed One. Peter was saying that Jesus is the deliverer promised by the Old Testament. prophets.

The Nicene Creed is the confession or doctrinal formulation adopted by the first Council of Nicaea (Nicea), which met in A.D. 325 at Nicaea, the modern city of Iznik, Turkey, near Constantinople or New Rome. Some three hundred bishops attended. Athanasius of Alexandria was the great defender of Orthodoxy against Arius who believed that Jesus Christ was a created being—not the eternal God.

The Nicene Creed decisively rejects Arianism (think of the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses), which held that the Son of God was created, and that there was a time (therefore) when he was not. To affirm the essential unity of the Father and the Son, the Council used a non-biblical term in a creed for the first time, the compound word, Homoousion, meaning, in Greek, that the Son is "of the same substance" with the Father.

While the Council of Nicea produced a creedal statement that was a consensus of the Church’s basic beliefs, there were those who still did not accept Nicene Christology. Apollinarius pressed Christ’s deity to the exclusion of his human experience and left the church with a demigod. Nestorius exaggerated the two separate natures (human and divine), and so divided the unity of God's person. Eutyches went to the opposite extreme, and asserted only one nature in Christ (called monophysitism). Many Pentecostal groups today are still “Jesus Only” in their theology.

Antiochene theologians were instrumental in the condemnation of the Apollinarians in A.D. 381, at the Council of Constantinople. But fifty years later the Antiochene Nestorius, the patriarch of Constantinople, was condemned at the Council of Ephesus for declaring that Mary was "bearer of Christ"--Christokos--and not "bearer of God"--Theotokos. Nestorius meant that the distinction between the divinity and the humanity of Christ does not allow one to speak as if the divinity had been borne by Mary.

When Simon Peter recognized that Christ was both God and Man—The Son of God and Son of Man, he said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Later, during the Transfiguration, this reality would become more apparent (Mat 16:17). Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. (Mat 16:18) "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.

The meaning of “this rock” (16:18) has become a source of controversy. Three different interpretations have arisen in church history of Jesus’ statement, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church.”

(1) Some take Peter as the rock and use the text to justify the belief that Peter was the “first pope” or “Papa” of the Church. “Peter” in Gk. means “little stone,” rock indicates a massive rock formation. Caesarea Philippi is about 1,150 feet above sea level, located on a triangular plain in the upper Jordan Valley along the southwestern slopes of Mt. Hermon. Behind it rise bluffs and rugged mountain peaks. The area is one of the most lush and beautiful in Palestine, with groves of trees and grassy fields abounding. Water is in abundance; one of the sources of the Jordan gushes from a cave in the bluffs. Jesus could have been metaphorically been referring to the nearby mountain (seen in the background of the pictures that follow this section) that may have been the mountain of the Transfiguration, which would occur a week later.

(2) Some take Peter’s confession of Christ as the rock and see the church as built on those who likewise confess Christ as the Son of God.

(3) There may be truth in both of these opinions. Peter recognized, that Jesus is God’s Son, as the reality that serves as the foundation for His church. Because Jesus is the Son of God, Satan can never prevail against those who are His own.

Jesus said that the “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Caesarea Philippi seems to have been a religious center from its earliest days. The Canaanite god Baal-gad, the god of good fortune, was worshiped here in Old Testament times. The entrance to this subterranean temple complex was the “Gates of Hell” by local people.

Later, in the Greek period, a shrine in the cave was dedicated to the god Pan. In addition, many niches in the cave held statues of the Nymphs. When Herod the Great was king of the Jews, he built a temple out of white marble near the same spot and dedicated it to Emperor Augustus.

At this spot, one tributary of the Jordon River disappears underground into Pan’s cave (a type of hell), and then reappears a few hundred feet away in the form of a spring (the first picture below). The Gates of Hell could not prevail over the River Jordon, nor could they prevail over the Church of God.

KEYS GIVEN TO THE CHURCH

 

There is one more important aspect of Jesus’ teaching near the Gates of Hell. In Matthew 16:19 Jesus continued his discourse with his disciples saying: "And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” God controls even the keys of hell.

 

Rev 9:1 Then the fifth angel sounded: And I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth. To him was given the key to the bottomless pit.

Rev 20:1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.

 

This reference to “Keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19) is another important metaphor. According to the New Testament, some keys belong to Christ, but three keys have been given to the Church for use by the leadership of the Church, of which Peter was the forerunner.

1. Key of Knowledge-- Luke 11:52-- Revelation of all things pertaining to life is given to us in the Word. Peter had a great revelation.

2. Key of Binding-- Matt. 16:19-- Key to bind evil from affecting people and restoring them to covenant with God.

3. Key of Loosing-- Matt. 16:19-- Key to loosing from sin and spiritual bondage. Keys were symbolic in Old Testament. times of a chief steward’s position, Jesus clearly is speaking of some significant role in the Church Age to come. That role is made more clear by how the keys are used, to “bind and loose.”

Christ is the foundation of all authority. Peter has confessed Christ. Peter and the disciples were then commissioned to confess Christ before others. That confession, and how men respond to it, is truly the key to heaven. A response of faith opens the door to new life in Christ. A rejection closes the door on life and confirms ultimate judgment.

Binding and Loosing are technical terms for the exercise of disciplinary authority bestowed by Christ in conjunction with the keys of the kingdom, first to Peter in Matthew 16:19, then to all the disciples in Matthew 18:18. This means that they are empowered to hand down decisions in matters of conduct; that is, in prohibiting or permitting specific duties or moral func­tions. What is implied is the authority to free people from spiritual bondage, as well as to reinstate them in the community of believers.

This discourse is also important because for the first time Jesus predicted His coming arrest, death, and resurrection in Jerusalem. That Peter and the other disciples did not fully understand the nature of Jesus being the Messiah is evidenced by Peter's rebuke of Jesus. This marked the turning point in Jesus' ministry. After this He confined His ministry mostly to the twelve trying to teach them the meaning of His identity as “The Messiah” who was prophesied in the Old Testament.

 

Mat 16:20 Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ.

Mat 16:21 From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.

Mat 16:22 Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!"

Mat 16:23 But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men."

 

St. Peter, the same person who had the revelation a few minutes before, now argues with Jesus, refusing to accept the prediction about his impending Passion. Jesus rebuked him before the other disciples and then began talking about the cost of discipleship for those He had chosen to be His Apostles. The Apostles had no idea that they would eventually change the course of history and face martyrdom for their faith in Jesus Christ. They would soon have glimpses into the Kingdom of God, but it would not come to pass in the way that they would have expected it to be established.

 

Mat 16:24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

Mat 16:25 "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

Mat 16:26 "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?

Mat 16:27 "For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.

Mat 16:28 "Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom."

 

THE TRANSFIGURATION OF JESUS CHRIST

 

(Photo of an icon at St. Luke Mission Church)

 

The transfiguration occurred about a week after the confession and teaching at Caesarea Philippi. It gave the Apostles a glimpse of the “Son of Man coming in His Kingdom” and in the glory, of which Jesus had talked about a week earlier. Once we understand the background of what Jesus was trying to teach His disciples, the Transfiguration assumes greater significance and seems like a logical conclusion to St. Peter’s confession and Jesus’ discourse at Caesarea Philippi.

The location of the Transfiguration was probably also in the area near Caesarea Philippi. The Place of the traditional site is Mount Tabor in lower Galilee, but it is not a high mountain (only 1,850 feet) and was probably fortified by the Romans and inaccessible in Jesus' day. A much more likely site is Mount Hermon (9,100 feet) to the north of Caesarea Philippi. Jesus and His disciples were already in the area, with Mount Hermon towering above the Jordon River, the “Gates of Hell” and Caesarea Philippi.

There is a lot of important symbolism in the scriptural accounts of the Transfiguration. A mountain in the Bible is often a place of revelation. Moses and Elijah represented the law and the prophets respectively, which testify to but must give way to Jesus. This is the reason why Peter's suggestion of building three booths (tabernacles) was improper. Moses and Elijah themselves were heralds of the Messiah (Deut. 18:15; Mal. 4:5-6). The three booths suggest the Feast of the Tabernacles that symbolizes a new situation, a new age. Clouds represent divine presence. The close connection of the transfiguration with the confession and passion prediction is significant. The Messiah must suffer; but glorification and enthronement, not suffering, is His ultimate fate. These involve resurrection, ascension, and return in glory. The disciples needed the reassurance of the transfiguration as they contemplated Jesus' death and their future sufferings.

There are some minor differences in wording in the three Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration. Mark alone states that Jesus' garments became so white that no bleach could brighten them and that Peter did not know what to say. Also, Mark alone has no reference to a change in Jesus' face. Matthew alone indicates that God expressed His pleasure with Jesus, that the disciples fell on their faces, and that Jesus touched them to get them up. Instead of the six days of Matthew and Mark, Luke has about eight days. He alone indicated that Jesus and the disciples were praying, that Moses and Elijah conversed with Jesus about His coming death, that the disciples were sleepy, and that they saw Jesus' glory. Luke alone has "chosen" rather than "beloved Son." In Matthew, Jesus is addressed as Lord, in Mark as Rabbi, and in Luke as Master. In truth, He embodied all three of those titles.

St. Peter makes reference to the Transfiguration in his second epistle.

 

2 Peter1: 16-21: 16?For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17?For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” 18?And we heard this voice, which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19?And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; 20?knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21?for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.

 

St. Peter was an eyewitness to the Glory of God, revealed on the Mountain of Transfiguration. Later in his life, this experience helped him to face persecution and difficulties in the ministry. Such experiences are awesome and fearful (Deut. 5:25). Such revelation does not, however, reveal all of God, for no person can see the entirety of the divine glory. The Apostles did not seek glory for themselves (Matt. 6:2; John 5:44; 1 Thess. 2:6). They only looked to receive praise and honor from Christ (Rom. 2:7; 5:2; 1 Thess. 2:19; Phil. 2:16).

Clearly, the “GLORY” that Peter, James, and John experienced on the Mount of Transfiguration impacted their lives. The basic meaning of the Hebrew word kabod (translated as “glory”) is heavy in weight. (Compare 1 Sam. 4:18; Prov. 27:3.) Thus, it can refer to a heavy burden (Ex. 18:18; Ps. 38:4; compare more idiomatic uses in Gen. 12:10; 47:4; Ex. 4:10; 7:14). When Jesus taught on the cost of discipleship a week before His Transfiguration, he was trying to prepare his disciples for the heavy weight of ministry to which they were called. The weighty importance and shining majesty that accompany God's presence is, according to Origin available for “those who go up… and not to those below” who are not willing to climb the mountain.

Origin continued talking about the impact of the Transfiguration experience when he wrote: “When he is transfigured, his face shines as the sun, that he may be manifested to the children of light, who have put off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.?? They are no longer the children of darkness or night but have become the children of day. They walk honestly as in the day. Being manifested, he will shine to them not simply as the sun but as he is demonstrated to be, the sun of righteousness.” (Origen Commentary on Matthew 12.37). ??

Origin also shows the importance of the Transfiguration for us. “Do you wish to see the transfiguration of Jesus? Behold with me the Jesus of the Gospels. Let him be simply apprehended. There he is beheld both “according to the flesh” and at the same time in his true divinity. He is beheld in the form of God according to our capacity for knowledge.”

About the Gory of God revealed, Jerome said: “The preview of the future kingdom and the glory of his triumph had been shown on the mountain. So he does not want this to be told to the people in case it should be deemed incredible because of its greatness and also so that after such great glory the event of the cross that follows should not cause untaught minds to stumble.” (Commentary on Matthew 3.17.9)

 

THE APPEARANCE OF MOSES AND ELIJAH

 

Luke 9:30 And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah,
Luke 9:31 who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

 

Why did Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus? There are at least four reasons that these Old Testament saints were present on the Mountain of Transfiguration. St. Jerome wrote about one of these when he said this: “Thereupon Elijah descended from the place to which he had ascended. Moses rose from the lower regions.” (Commentary on Matthew 3.17.3) Moses had died and was in the abode of the Old Testament saints, a compartment of Hades (the Bosom of Abraham mentioned in Luke 16:22). Elijah had never died and was abiding in the presence of God (heaven). Thus heaven and earth, death and life, and the natural and spiritual are united in the appearance of Moses and Elijah during the Transfiguration event.

Secondly, Moses and Elijah both encountered God in all of his glory and majesty on Mount Horeb, as the following scriptural passages show.

 

Exo 19:9 And the LORD said to Moses, "Behold, I come to you in the thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever." So Moses told the words of the people to the LORD.

Exo 19:20 Then the LORD came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.

Exo 24:9-10 Then Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity.

Exo 24:12 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Come up to Me on the mountain and be there; and I will give you tablets of stone, and the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them."

Exo 34:28 So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.

 

1 Ki 19:8 So he (Elijah) arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.

1 Ki 19:9 And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

1 Ki 19:10 So he said, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life."

1 Ki 19:11 Then He said, "Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD." And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake;

1 Ki 19:12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.

1 Ki 19:13 So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

1 Ki 19:14 And he said, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life."

1 Ki 19:15 Then the LORD said to him: "Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria.

1 Ki 19:16 "Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place.

 

After these encounters both men had a renewed zeal and understanding of the ministry to which they were called. Likewise, a greater understanding of the person of Jesus Christ and the ministries about to be given to Peter, James and John was revealed at the Transfiguration. Both Moses and Elijah had their lives transformed by encountering the Glory of God. A third reason for these two saints appearing with Christ at the Transfiguration was to remind us that there is transforming power in the Glory of God. This can be seen in the miraculous translation of Elijah to heaven and in the tradition of Moses’ shining face.

 

Exo 34:29 Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the Testimony were in Moses' hand when he came down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him.

Exo 34:30 So when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.

Exo 34:31 Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned to him; and Moses talked with them.

Exo 34:32 Afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them as commandments all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai.

Exo 34:33 And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face.

Exo 34:34 But whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with Him, he would take the veil off until he came out; and he would come out and speak to the children of Israel whatever he had been commanded.

Exo 34:35 And whenever the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone, then Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with Him.

 

According to the tradition, Moses must veil his face when he is not performing his official duties (vv. 33–34). The radiant face of Moses insofar as it derives from God and is the symbol of his authority before God. The man who was rejected by the people (Exodus 32:1, 4) is the man who restored them in covenant and who now fittingly wears the symbol of his divine office.[1] The radiance of Moses’ face marks a reflection of the divine glory he has confronted on the mountain.

The Apostle Paul talks about this in Second Corinthians chapter three. He relates the fear and lack of understanding of the people who saw Moses shining face, with the fear and lack of understanding of the Jewish people in relation to Jesus Christ. This same fear and lack of understanding of the Glory of God still affects our society today.

 

2 Cor 3:5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God,

2 Cor 3:6 who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

2 Cor 3:7 But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away,

2 Cor 3:8 how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious?

2 Cor 3:9 For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory.

2 Cor 3:10 For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels.

2 Cor 3:11 For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious.

2 Cor 3:12-13 Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech; unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away.

2 Cor 3:14 But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ.

2 Cor 3:15 But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart.

2 Cor 3:16 Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

 

The minds of the people were hardened through unbelief, and this will not change until they convert and believe in Christ. Why should we be surprised that the people of Christ’s day did not believe in Him, since they did not believe in the Law of Moses either? When Moses talked with the Jews, he had his face covered, but when he talked with God, the veil was removed. Likewise when we turn to the Lord, we shall see the glory of the law and the face of the true Lawgiver uncovered. The Disciples of Christ saw this and were afraid. Look at what some of the Church Fathers said about this.

 

Chrysostom: Paul is saying that there is no need for us to cover ourselves as Moses did,?? for we are able to look at the glory with which we are encircled, even though it is far brighter than the other one. (Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians 7.2.??)

 

Cyril of Alexandria: Yet the shadows bring forth the truth, even if they are not at all the truth themselves. Because of this, the divinely inspired Moses placed a veil upon his face and spoke thus to the children of Israel, all but shouting by this act that a person might behold the beauty of the utterances made through him, not in outwardly appearing figures but in meditations hidden within us.?? Come, therefore, by taking off the veil of the law and by setting the face of Moses free of its coverings, let us behold the naked truth. (Letter 41)?

 

While example of Moses’ encounter with the Glory of God can teach us how we should respond to the God’s incarnate presence, Elijah also figures prominently in the Incarnation of the Messiah. It was widely believed that Elijah would appear prior to the coming of the Messiah. In fact, at the Passover meal, there was a seat for Elijah. On the way down the mountain after the Transfiguration, Jesus was asked about Elijah being a forerunner of the Messiah. Theodore of Mopsuestia: (one of the early Church Fathers) summarized the popular belief about Elijah appearing before the Messiah. He said: “Therefore there will be a forerunner of his second coming about the time of the consummation. Also this time he is to restore all to true knowledge, restoring everyone who obeys him. The scribes deceived the people when they said that Elijah comes before the advent of the Christ. And this word was reported also among the ignorant crowd; that is what the disciples now ask. How then does he resolve it?” (Fragment 94)??

Unless we know the reasons why the disciples asked about the name of Elijah, their questioning seems irrelevant. The Pharisees’ tradition, following the prophet Malachi, is that Elijah comes before the end.?? He turns the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers and restores everything to its proper state. Now, with greater insight, after the Transfiguration, the Disciples came to realize that John the Baptist was a type of Elijah and the forerunner of Jesus as the Messiah.

 

Mat 17:10 And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?"

Mat 17:11 Jesus answered and said to them, "Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things.

Mat 17:12 "But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands."

Mat 17:13 Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.

 

About this revelation to the Disciples, of the importance of Moses and Elijah, John Chrysostom said: “And not only did Jesus elevate their understanding, but also he brought their virtues to a higher level, so that they could meet the requirements expected of them. He had just said, ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.’?? He then set before them Moses and Elijah, who were ready to die ten thousand times for God’s decrees and for the people entrusted to them. Each of them, having lost his life, found it. For each of them both spoke boldly to tyrants, the one to the Egyptian, the other to Ahab. They both spoke on behalf of heartless and disobedient people. Both desired to lead people away from idolatry. These were not eloquent men. Moses was slow of tongue and dull of speech.?? Elijah had the crudest sort of appearance.?? Both were strict observers of voluntary poverty. Moses did not work for worldly gain. Elijah did not possess anything more than his sheepskin.” (The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 56.3)

A fourth reason for the presence of Moses and Elijah was that Moses represented the Law and Elijah embodied the Prophets. Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. The Law and writings of the prophets are prominently featured in the New Testament. “Through their speaking together it shows that the old prophets also spoke the same things as Jesus, even if enigmatically. The law has its proper glory, but the people were unable to behold it” (Cyril of Alexandria)

 

Rom 3:21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,

Rom 3:22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference;

Luke 16:16 "The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.

Luke 16:17 "And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail.

 

Jesus called Himself a prophet (Luke 13:33). His miracles and discernment were rightly understood as prophetic (John 4:19). He taught not by citing expert rabbis, but with His own prophetic authority (Mark 1:22; Luke 4:24). The prophets played a foundational role in the early church (1 Cor. 12:28-31; Eph. 4:11; 2:20). Due to the presumed prophetic silence in the time between the Testaments, the coming of Jesus is seen as renewal of the Holy Spirit's work especially visible in prophecy. For example, after an angelic visitation to the shepherds, the prophet and prophetess declared Jesus to be the redemption for which Israel awaited (2:10-12,25,36-38). John the Baptist also predicted that Jesus would baptize in the Spirit (Matt. 3:11).

Jesus certainly knew the Law and often referred to it. He was critical of one "the tradition of the elders" or the oral laws that had grown up around the written Law. The enemies of Jesus frequently accused Him of violating the Law. It is clear that keeping the letter of the Law had become more important to some of the Jews than the purpose behind the Law. On several occasions Jesus set His own teachings over against those of the Pharisees (Matt. 5:21-6:34). The Pharisees accused Jesus and His disciples of not following the law with regard to "unclean" things (Matt. 15:1-20), and they accused Him of eating with tax-gatherers and sinners (Matt. 9:11). Jesus' greatest conflict came over the Sabbath. He rejected their interpretation of the Sabbath Law and said that the Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:8). He also said that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27).

Jesus inaugurated a new era in which the Law as understood by the Jews of His day would no longer be the guiding principle for the Kingdom of God (Luke 16:16). Nevertheless, Jesus claimed not to have come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17-20). That is, Jesus moved the understanding of the Law from its external, legalistic meaning to its spiritual one. He moved to a deeper level of meaning, to the spirit behind the Law that God had intended from the beginning. The appearance of Moses with Jesus was a reminder that it was God who gave the Law. It did not come from the hand of Moses. Therefore, the divine Jesus could teach that the Law was no longer to be viewed legalistically. The Law is still the revelation of God, and it helps us to understand the nature of our life in Christ (Rom. 8:3; 13:8-10; Gal. 3:24), but it must be viewed a gift of God and not become a God..

 

THE VOICE OF THE FATHER IN THE TRANSFIGURATION

 

A voice from the cloud of God’s glory said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” What did the Father mean by this? Leo the Great analyzed this statement quite well. According to Leo, God the Father could have been saying: “I am manifested through his preaching. I am glorified through his humility. So listen to him without hesitation. He is the truth and the life.?? He is my strength and wisdom. Listen to him, whom the mysteries of the law foreshadowed, of whom the mouths of the prophets sang. Listen to him, who by his blood redeemed the world, who binds the devil?? and seizes his vessels, who breaks the debt of sin and the bondage of iniquity. Listen to him, who opens the way to heaven and by the pain of the cross prepares for you the steps of ascent into his kingdom.” (Sermon 38. 7) ??

In great awe the disciples fell on their faces, and the Savior raised them up. Jerome gives some insight into why people always fall on their faces in the presence of the Father. “For three possible reasons they were petrified with fear: either because they knew they had sinned or because the bright cloud covered them or because they had heard the voice of God the Father speaking. Human weakness is not strong enough to bear the sight of such great glory but trembles with its whole heart and body and falls to earth. And then Jesus came up and touched them. Because they were lying down and could not rise, he mercifully came up and touched them so that through his touch he might put to flight their fear and strengthen their weakened limbs. Those whom he had healed with his hand, he heals with his command, ‘Have no fear.’ First fear is expelled so that afterwards doctrine may be imparted. (Commentary on Matthew 3.17.6-7)??

The disciples understood that the Son of God had been speaking with Moses. It was Moses who had said of God, “No one shall see my face and live.”?? The Disciples understood the testimony of Moses about God. They were not able to endure the radiance of the Word. They humbled themselves under the mighty hand of God. But after the touch of the Word, they lifted up their eyes. They saw Jesus only and no other. Moses, the lawgiver and Elijah the prophet had become one with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the Transfiguration we see the Father validating the ministry of the Son. We see the Deity and Humanity of Jesus the Son of God. We see the principles and words of the Law and the Prophets united in the person and ministry of Jesus. And we get a glimpse of the Glory of God, as heaven opens and reveals the real nature of Jesus Christ. These are revelations that need to be understood by Christians in the modern world, and so the Feast of Transfiguration should indeed occupy an important place in our calendar of Sacramental worship.

 


[1]Bergant, D., & Karris, R. J. (1989). The Collegeville Bible commentary : Based on the New American Bible with revised New Testament. Previously published in 36 separate booklets. (112). Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press.

 

 


[1] There is another Minor Feast on the Friday after the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. This is the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus The theological significance of this feast consists, fundamentally, in the worshipful celebration of the divine and human mystery of love revealed in Christ. The specific focus on the heart of Christ amounts to a focus on his freely chosen love for sinful humanity, taking the physical heart as the real symbol of his love for us.