My brother is a film professor and he describes the very first motion picture ever that featured… motion… and movement. Prior to that, films were shot of actors performing on a stage. One scene with only the actors themselves moving at all. The camera itself was planted on a mount, a tripod. The movie my brother describes was very simply made, with a camera pointing outside the window of a slowly moving train. People in the theater who saw this became physically ill because they had never seen anything at all like it before. Many rushed out of the theater because they had no point of reference. They felt disoriented, as though they themselves were moving but they knew they were actually not.
Contrast that with today’s movie special effects. Scenes of flying through space on the Millennium Falcon or experiencing a high speed car chase through the streets of New York City. We don’t get sick. We don’t even feel it at all. It takes a lot more for us to experience the excitement because we are so accustomed to the thrill. So much so that it doesn’t feel like much of a thrill at all. That’s what repetition can do.
Today, we celebrate the Transfiguration of Christ. The transfiguration…
… that is a weird word… transfiguration.
The dictionary tells us that it takes place when there is a change in form or appearance. Not just any change but rather one that is “exalting or glorifying.”
When was the last time you used the word transfiguration in your everyday life? To be funny this morning, I was at Starbucks and said: “I would like to order a delicious beverage that is transfigured from a normal coffee bean” and the woman there said “what?”
No, that didn’t really happen.
But for the life of me, I can’t think of a single time when I’ve ever actually used the word other than in reference to today’s Gospel reading. Then again, Catholics can be like that. For example, have you ever thrown around the word begotten in a conversation? Want to be popular at parties? Tell a story using the word consubstantial.
There’s a reason we use this kind of language. The reason is that everyday words completely fail to adequately describe extraordinary things… like the incarnation… when God took on the form of humanity. Or when Jesus transformed in front of three members of his inner circle and appeared with the great prophets Moses and Elijah. These were not everyday occurrences and so everyday language can’t fully capture the excitement, the glory, the triumph of those moments.
There stood Jesus, upon a mountain top. Between his companions who were and the prophets who had been. Present and past. With his friends… and with his Father. Jesus – right there in the apex between humanity and divinity. What a miracle this was. And it was a glorious miracle. So glorious that Peter wanted to build some tents so they could stay there bathed within the glorious light up upon that mountain top. Oh to have experienced such a thing.
Do you ever wish you could experience something like that? I do.
But then again…
We encounter Jesus himself every time we approach the altar at every Mass we attend.
We experience the love of one who created us and who calls us to return to him someday. And no matter what we have done, there is a road back that is paved with forgiveness and mercy.
We understand that we are not simply molecular compositions, but rather something that is far, far greater than that.
And we know that despite our own personal valleys of despair, we are promised an everlasting mountain top of redemption, full of great glory.
It’s easy to forget all this, though. Maybe it’s the cycle of the years that come and go or the cadence of being here at Mass on Sundays, week after week, Lent after Lent. It’s easy to lose sight of the beauty, the glory and the exaltation. It’s like the difference between a movie showing slight movement on a train and one when you are on a spaceship hurling through the galaxy; over time we can lose the thrill because of repetition. And we can forget how extraordinary something actually is.
I believe it’s worth reflecting upon this.
And even though we actually are a molecular composition, we are also constantly surrounded in the glow of a bright light… even if we don’t always see it.
Because we too are God’s miracle.
And we too… are transfigured.