Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Veils Off, Veils On& other Random Delight in the Transfiguration

Originally posted two years ago--just some thoughts on one of my favorite feasts.

Part of this title seems like  a shameless ploy to get pageview traffic, drawing in readers who are interested in the question of wearing mantillas at mass. Or the even hotter controversy in this wide world over the hijab. But what I'm actually thinking of is the Office of Readings for this, one of my very favorite feasts.

In the first reading--a very approriate reading, since it features Moses, a supporting player in today's feast--St. Paul plays on the metaphor of the veil. The Veil that hid the reflected glory of God on the face of Moses, the veil  of misunderstanding that keeps the Jews from seeing Scripture fulfilled in Christ, and the veil that the "god of this present age" puts between unbelievers and the truth. And finally, the joy of that veil's removal, so that we may now see "the glory of God shining on the face of Jesus Christ."

The second reading, from the fairly obscure Anastasius of Sinai, has answered a question that I had for years. You know when Jesus said in Matt 16:28, "Truly I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death bfore they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom" ?  I always wondered what He meant there. After all, the apostles died before the second coming.  I supposed that Jesus must have been referring to St. John, who certainly saw the triumphant Kingdom in his visions on Patmos. I never noticed what Anastasius noticed: that this prediction is followed up in the very next sentence  with its fulfillment: six days later, Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John...  the Transfiguation was the event in which three apostles saw the glory of the kindgom before they tasted death!

Of course, Anastasius was not hindered by the chapter divisions in the gospels that tend to keep  us from connecting these types of dots.

Okay. Here's one more thing I always think about and laugh about (it's a feastday--we should find things to laugh about!).  How did the apostles recognize Moses and Elijah? We're told that the Jews eschewed most  representational art out of concern for avoiding the temptation to idol worship. So how did they know who was speaking with Jesus on Mt. Tabor? Was Moses carrying his signature tablets of the law? Did Elijah arrive in his chariot, or perhaps have that helpful raven on his shoulder? The gospels don't tell us. Inqiring minds want to know.

There is so much in the Transfiguration account: the voice of the Father, the sweet and gentle, rise and do not be afraid,  and the interesting connection between Elijah and John the Baptist. It's not wonder the Church has us mark this event twice a year-once on a Sunday in Lent and once as a feast.

Pay attention at Evening Prayer today. The New Testament canticle is one we only get today and on the feast of the Epiphany.  It's an adaptation of 1 Timothy, 3:16, with a repeated response worked in. Knowing that it's only used for these two feasts, it makes for a great little meditation to think about how those two are connected.