This weekend, many Christians around the world will celebrate Transfiguration Sunday, which marks the final Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. While most focus on the transfiguration itself, I have always been caught more by what happens immediately after Christ is shown in all of his glory on the top of Mount Tabor.
“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.“ — LUKE 9:51
The Transfiguration is a hinge-moment in Luke’s story, a chapter marker that divides the first part of Jesus’ story from the second. Here, Jesus “set his face” toward Jerusalem and the inevitable suffering that would come as a result.
“Setting one’s face” was an old Hebrew idiom that indicated a strong resolve to do something or go somewhere.
Today, we might say that someone “put their blinders on.” No matter what Jesus might encounter going forward, he would not allow himself to be dissuaded from his ultimate purpose. Despite the fact that this was likely a common turn of phrase, it is still an interesting inclusion from Luke. Interesting because there is one other notable usage of the phrase within the biblical text:
“Son of man, set your face against Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuary. Prophesy against the land of Israel…” — EZEKIEL 21:2Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem not for a visit but a victory. Click To Tweet
Transfiguration is a reminder that Jesus lived his life on purpose… and so should we, especially this time of the church year.
Through this lens, the Transfiguration becomes on opportunity for Christ to strengthen his resolve, receive confirmation and power from God, and bask in the blessing of his Father before facing the horrific suffering soon to come.
Transfiguration (n.) — Jesus’ mountaintop moment before the long dark night of the soul.
This explains why Transfiguration Sunday is most often celebrated just before Ash Wednesday and Lent. On this Sunday we are allowed to climb the mountaintop with Christ and look around. We are afforded the opportunity to look ahead to Easter and the resurrection before walking through the sacrifice and suffering of the passion.
Transfiguration Sunday is an opportunity to strengthen ourselves, committing once again to walk the way of the cross.
PRACTICE: Consider how you will practice Ash Wednesday and Lent this year. If you have a family, commit to a conversation with them about Transfiguration Sunday and consider how you might together “set your face” toward Jerusalem and resurrection.