An encounter with the Divine transforms

The Church of the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor

The Church of the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor

The three Synoptic Gospels record the Transfiguration in almost complete agreement with detail. (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-9; Luke 9:28-36). Matthew and Mark write that it was six days after Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi while Luke says it was eight days after. Nevertheless, Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ and Jesus predicted his own passion and death, then the Transfiguration followed.

Where and when did it happen?

The church observes the Transfiguration on August 6 and tradition places its occurrence on Mt. Tabor in the Jezreel Valley. Though Mt. Tabor is logical because it is a high mountain in the area, some people have argued for Mt. Hermon further north. The view from both heights is picturesque.

Nevertheless, a church was first built on Mt. Tabor in the fourth century and dedicated on August 6. The Eastern Churches have therefore, observed August 6 as Transfiguration Day since then. It wasn’t until the eighth century that some Western churches began to observe the day and Pope Callistus III put it on the church calendar in 1456.

Peter’s desire to build booths suggests that it was probably during the Feast of Booths – or Tabernacles – Sukkot in Hebrew – that the Transfiguration took place. Nevertheless, what is significant in this event is the revelation of Jesus’ divinity, as confirmation of Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi and Jesus passion and death in affirmation of his humanity.

Yet, we cannot help but ask: What exactly did the three disciples, Peter, John and James, experience on that mountain top? It must have been frightening and indescribable. Hence, the Sinai experience in Exodus 34:29-35 serves as a powerful illustration. It says there that as Moses “came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been  talking to God”.

That is the transformation experience in these two mountain top events: An encounter with the Divine is truly transformative.


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