The Feast of the Transfiguration, celebrated on August 6th, is a momentous event in the life of Christ and in the Christian tradition. It holds profound significance as it reveals a glimpse of the divine glory of Jesus Christ. The Transfiguration is recounted in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, where Jesus, accompanied by Peter, James, and John, ascends a mountain, meets with Moses and Elijah, and undergoes a remarkable transformation.
Unfortunately, The Transfiguration is one of those events that often is a victim of reductionism. There’s so much that occurs in such a short amount of time, so much meaning there, so much symbolism, so much beauty, so much emotion that it is difficult for us to process so we make bulleted points.
If you look up the significance of The Transfiguration you're often given a list:
Jesus’ divine nature is revealed
The Old and New Testaments come together
It’s one of five major events in the Life of Christ
The list goes on and on and while all of these points are true, they strip the event of its miraculousness and miss the enormity of the event. The Transfiguration cannot be reduced to a bulleted list!
The Transfiguration is this remarkable moment where the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man converge. Where a man is not only a man but God himself, where heroes from the distant past are suddenly present, and where the voice of God comes booming from the clouds.
In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we are told that Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up to a high mountain. There he is transfigured before them. His face shines like the sun, and his clothes become as white as the light. This incredible transfiguration calls to mind the image of the Lord that Ezekiel describes, “I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire, and brilliant light surrounded him” (Ezekiel 1:27). It immediately reveals to the disciples Jesus’ divine nature and is a testament to the reality that Jesus is not just a prophet or a rabbi, but the very Son of God.
Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appear, talking with Jesus on the mountain. How significant that these great heroes of the faith who were thought to be dead are now suddenly very much alive and have appeared to speak with Jesus! Moses, the lawgiver, and Elijah, the great prophet, both pointed to the coming of the Messiah. Here, at this very moment, they are witnessing the fulfillment of their labors and the call of God which they faithfully obeyed. And how significant that these men are on a mountain because when Moses and Elijah were ever on a mountain, they were usually meeting with God!
In Luke 9:31, we are told that Moses and Elijah are talking with Jesus about his departure which he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem. A fascinating point that often gets missed is that the word “departure” in Greek is “exodus.” So here we have Moses, who led the Israelites out of slavery in the original “Exodus” and Elijah, the prophet who led a sort of spiritual "exodus" in that he sought to lead the people of Israel away from idolatry and back to faithfulness to God, speaking with Jesus about the ultimate “exodus” where he will deliver God’s people once and for all from the slavery of sin and death through his own death and resurrection. How incredible!
As Moses and Elijah were leaving Jesus, Peter recognizes this pivotal moment and offers to put up three tents. While he is still speaking, a bright cloud covers them all and a voice from the cloud says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him, I am well pleased. Listen to him!” This moment hearkens back to the Old Testament, where God often spoke to people like Moses and Elijah from a cloud, indicating His divine presence as well as at Jesus’ baptism where a voice comes from the heavens and says, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). As God's voice resounds from the cloud, Jesus' divine identity as God's Son is again affirmed and it is also an endorsement from God of the truth of His teachings. Jesus is not just another prophet, but He speaks with the authority of God Himself. This divine command echoes throughout the ages, reminding Christians to heed Christ's words and imitate his life of love, compassion, and self-sacrifice.
The Transfiguration and First Fruits
In some Christian traditions, it is customary to celebrate The Feast of the Transfiguration by eating fruit, particularly grapes. The timing of The Transfiguration, occurring in early August, corresponds with the harvest of grapes and other first fruits in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions where the tradition originated.
With the harvest of these fruits, the people of God were reminded of God’s goodness and His infinite bounty. It was a time to offer thanks to God for His generosity. The fruit was brought to the church for a blessing and then eaten with great celebration. The practice of blessing fruit on the Feast of the Transfiguration continues to this day in many Byzantine communities.
A prayer of thanksgiving for the new fruits can be found as early as 220 AD in the work of St. Hyppolytus. He mentions the following fruits that were usually blessed: grapes, figs, pomegranates, pears, mulberries, peaches, and almonds.”
Ways to Celebrate
Light a candle to symbolize the glory of Christ during The Transfiguration.
If possible, take a nature walk or hike to a nearby hill or mountain, just like Jesus did with Peter, James, and John.
Because The Transfiguration is connected with the grape harvest and the first fruits of the season, eat something with grapes or any other kind of fruit, particularly a fruit pie.
Make a Chocolate Silk Pie. I love making Chocolate Silk Pie for The Feast of The Transfiguration because it's such a fun (and delicious!) representation of the earthly and the heavenly meeting together! When you place a slice of the pie on your plate, you clearly see the earthly (the chocolate custard) meeting together with the heavenly (the whipped cream)!