Roots of Armodoxy: Angels Ignored
The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ is recorded by the evangelists Matthew (17:1–8), Mark (9:2–8), and Luke (9:28–36). This week we’ve been looking at different angels – messengers and how they communicate with us – whether through songs, through children or even through stone. Yesterday we started a two-part series about “Angels Unheard,” today, in part 2, we’ll label the action as messages ignored.
The Transfiguration takes place with Jesus retreating to a Mountain with three of his disciples, Peter, John and James. There, as he prayed, he is transfigured. “…His Face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.” (Luke 9:29) Two historical figures – Moses and Elijah, the symbols of the law and the prophets – appear “in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.” A voice from above is heard “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”
Peter turns to Jesus and says on behalf of his disciple-brothers, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. I will put up three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
Certainly, under any other circumstance, you’d have to compliment Peter’s initiative and thoughtfulness to look after the comfort of the guests. But today? Jesus is radiating the Divine Light! He’s shining! For this moment of singularity, we humans are given a glimpse of the Eternal Presence, of the Light that Shines in the Darkness, at the Transfigured Christ! And his response? “Let us make three tents for you!” A message was being conveyed but it was ignored, whether intentional or not is secondary to the fact that he was consumed by worldly interests in the face of this most auspicious event moment.
Actually, Peter’s response to this event was not too much different to ours today. Let me go forward and back up a bit. When St. Gregory the Illuminator and King Dirtad converted Armenia to Christianity, they replaced many of the pagan holidays with Christian holidays. The celebration known Vartavar, dedicated to the pagan goddess Asdghik, was a water festival. The feast of Transfiguration was assigned to this day. The water component was kept as a reminder of each personal rebirth through the font of Baptism. A pilgrimage to the site of one’s baptism gave an opportunity for reflect on the joy on Christian life.
There is no doubt that being splashed by water on a hot summer day is refreshing and fun. Today, many churches celebrate Vartavar with splashes and soaks. In fact, the word Transfiguration is often not even mentioned. The official name of the feast in the Armenian Church is Aylakerputiun. Vartavar refers to the pagan holiday, or in word, it is Peter’s tent. It’s missing the point. It’s being blinded by the seeming comforts of this world that we miss the awesome beauty and glory that has been built into the universe since the beginning of time.
These messages are sent to us daily – several times during a day – but, intentionally or not, we lose sight of the beauty. How many flowers and trees did we pass by today on our walk or drive? So many that familiarity has bred contempt and we pass by without standing in awe that each of these are the miracle of seedlings, soil and sun. How often have we ignored a child’s plea for attention, only to chase after some insignificant matter? When have we truly remarked at the miracle of life, of a single heart beating for 20, 40, 80 or 100 years? And to think, every night the stars, the galaxies, the universe comes out on display, and we walk in other directions until the morning light makes them all vanish.
The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ is a reminder of the awesome glory of God that shines, that radiates all around us. The Christ-light is there, waiting for our reaction. We can stand in awe of a sunset or put up sunglasses or pull up an umbrella, or come inside and turn on the light. Christ was Transformed. The law and the prophets had gathered around him. The voice of the Father is heard. Peter and the disciples had a choice on how to react as do we every day.
Let us pray, Lord Jesus Christ, when you transfigured and radiated the Light which came to us from the beginning of Time, you gave us yet another opportunity to connect to eternity. Guide me to search out those glimpses of the Light amidst the darkness that seems to consume my thought and my paths. May your presence guide my life so that I may celebrate the glimpses of beauty and joy in my life. Amen.