Christianity is a personal affair. It is not abstract, theoretical, a speculative philosophy. It is a personal encounter with the living God who is himself three persons sharing one divine nature. When the saints Peter James and John, the inner circle of the Lord, beheld him transfigured on Mount Thabor they encountered the divine hypostasis of the Word in a human person, Christ, true man and true God. The Lord, for them and for us, was not an idea or concept to be argued over in the manner of those who debate the theoretical existence of God but rather a living, talking Person.
When an atheist, therefore, next asks you why you believe in God and all that other nonsense then you should reply that you know Christ, personally. I have noticed recently that atheists have started referring to believers as those who have imaginary friends in much the same way as children have invisible friends whom they talk to and play with. Children grow up of course and those imaginary friends give way to real humans and real relationships. We ought to respond to this challenge with one of our own. We know Christ not as an imaginary friend but as a true Person with whom we have a real relationship. This relationship is as real as any other relationship; in fact it is more real in that it is indestructible and wholly life-giving. True, the disbelieving may still scoff, but the invitation remains for them to come to know Christ as we know Him, personally. It is for them to test out that relationship in their own experience. Theirs will then be a relationship with God which is not second-hand but first hand, upfront and personal. Christ will then be known by them in all His majesty and glory, the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth, shining with the Uncreated Light of the Godhead.
The Transfiguration has much more to teach us concerning the personal dimension of our faith. Besides our Lord and our God on the mountain we have five figures; three from the New Testament - the Apostles Peter, James and John - and two from the Old, Moses and Elijah. All these five contribute personally to our own knowledge of God. The Apostles bring us both a living doctrine born out of their personal experience of Christ and their fellowship with us that continues to enliven that experience. Did not St Luke in his account of the life of the early Church in Acts refer to a sharing in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship ... and all of this in the context of the Eucharist and prayer; those most personal of communions with God (Acts 2:42).
Now, the Apostles all had a context in which they experienced Christ personally. For them at the Transfiguration, this most vivid presentation of Christ was in the fellowship and appearance of Moses and Elijah, representing respectively the Law and the Prophets. Both of these living saints pointed to the living Word and the basis for both, the Messiah, Christ. Those of us who are Gentiles have, by the grace of God, been grafted onto this Holy Vine, the Israel of God, the Church. Moses and Elijah are, therefore, now also our companions in the Faith. A “companion” you will recall from the original Latin meaning of the word is someone with whom we break bread. In every Eucharist, therefore, we have a personal fellowship with the righteous of both covenants and in the age of the Church with all those who were followed in their straight paths, the communion of saints.
It is therefore the saints, transfigured with the Lord, who mediate to us a personal relationship with God. It is in their lives that we see what this relationship can make of our human potential. In that they have achieved salvation, in that they have been deified in union with God, we have the very means of grace in them to attain to the same goal. Without them, the saints, Christianity remains cold, impersonal and abstract. With them the faith becomes warm, intimate, “lived in” and full of promise. As St Peter said on the holy mountain, “It is good Lord for us to be here.” (Matthew 17:4). Truly it is good!