Heaven swooped down on the holy mountain to offer Jesus encouragement to bear up under the sorrows that were coming to him. And this foretaste of heaven is given to us to make it worthwhile for us to put up with the pains that we meet.
A week before this, Jesus, feeling sorrowful over what lay before him, had confided with the apostles, telling them he was to be betrayed, mocked, and executed. His words went right over their heads. But Peter, James and John grasped something of what Jesus had said when he spoke about their need to carry their crosses. So, when Jesus went up to be with the Father on the mountain, he brought them up to look for their comfort.
The story of the transfiguration is the Gospel’s imaginative way of letting us have some share in what happened. Matthew tells us that the apostles fell asleep as Jesus prayed on and on with the Father. When they awoke it seemed to them that the pliable floor of heaven had somehow stretched down to take Jesus in. With that he took on the heavenly light of one in glory. Now, in Jewish lore the only two men already on heaven were Moses and Elijah who had been taken up in a fiery chariot. It was natural then that those two citizens of heaven would wander over to talk with their visitor Jesus. According to Luke, what they discussed was the death of Jesus.
For Jesus the transfiguration was heaven’s way of strengthening him for what was to come. For Christians who have set themselves to carry a heavy load through Lent this foretaste of a heavenly award offers encouragement. As well, it can be of help to people who like Jesus are saddened at their approaching hour of death.