Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration, traditionally observed on the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday which is the beginning of Lent. The Transfiguration is an interesting, though perplexing event chronicled in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It raises questions. Most obviously, how did Peter, James, and John know it was Moses and Elijah? What kind of clues did they get from Jesus’ conversation with them? Were they wearing name tags?
On a more serious note, what was the point? What purpose did this event serve and what did it do for Peter, James, and John as they observed it through weary eyes? Why did Jesus command them not to tell anyone about it? Why does John, the only eyewitness who wrote a Gospel, not mention it?
One point of the Transfiguration may be the idea of a private religious experience—those occasional happenings that seem best kept to ourselves, not because they are necessarily “weird,” but because they aren’t meant for anyone else. Some things are just between God and us, but not in a Joseph Smith sort of way. We might receive a reassurance or comfort from God that is meant for us alone to appreciate.
The Apostle Paul hints at such an experience in 2 Corinthians 12. It’s not clear whether he is speaking of himself or someone else, but it is a profound religious experience that doesn’t really have much application for anyone else.
It seems that most believers who have followed the Lord for some time have moments like these. They aren’t necessarily supernatural like witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration on a mountain, but may be a feeling of closeness to God that is out of the ordinary. They can be connected to a place or an event, or to a time of quietness.
These events seem to be pretty normal in the Christian life, but they can’t be made. God graces us with them as he sees fit, not when we want a “fix” of some Holy Spirit tingles. They are a way God speaks to us, yet what is communicated is often hard to put into words. I think that is the way it should be.
It seems that God even expects us to keep it to ourselves. The encounter was meant to be private. We don’t get points by sharing it. In fact, we may even lose some, because it can be a means of spiritual pride creeping into our lives. It also violates the bounds of our relationship with God. Husbands and wives share things with each other, physically and otherwise, that no one else needs to know about. No matter how meaningful or enjoyable it might be, it should be kept between them alone.
Do we love God enough to accept his loving advances for what they are? Or do we have to try to use it to advance ourselves with others? Maybe this is why Jesus, after a healing or, in this case, the Transfiguration, often told those who received it, “Don’t tell anyone.” This was from me to you.