I keep an icon of the Transfiguration pinned to the wall over my desk. Occasionally when I am reading or writing something, it will catch my eye. On the best days, it offers a brief moment of grace, a time when I’m stopped in the midst of my work and called to remember God’s presence in the more mundane parts of my life. This is how I tend to think of the Transfiguration—as a break in the relentless action of Mark’s gospel in which the power of God comes to visibility, a moment in which we are granted a vision of the hidden glory of Christ. I can see something of the beauty of God peeking through the world, and am moved by it; I imagine Christ’s body burning white, and long for him.
Other days, my eyes are cast down, continuing down the icon to gaze at the prone figures of the disciples at Jesus’ feet. Their faces are twisted with fear. Even the usually garrulous Peter is reduced to stammering on Mount Tabor: “He did not know what to say, for they were terrified” (Mk 9.6). And I know this feeling too. Lent begins and ends with this fear: on Ash Wednesday we are confronted by our own death; on Good Friday, we are shown something far worse, a different sort of icon in which this once-bright body is twisted by the violence we inflict upon one another every day. God dwells with us, we hear on the Mount of the Transfiguration—but this is a terrible thought for us who have only begun to be made holy. (Moses knew this; so did Elijah.) Our eyes are too weak for this sight. We cannot bear to look at it, and so we throw ourselves down with the apostles. And it is right that we meet them here, bowed in the dust in humility and penance—for it is precisely by kneeling that we are healed of our sin, strengthened to contemplate this uncreated light, and fit to rest in it eternally.
— Joe Lenow