I didn’t write for the second Sunday of Lent, the reading was the account of the Transfiguration. I have written about this before. My simple thought was that God reveals Himself to man, to everyone. We don’t always look or know what to do, but God does make His presence known. They are epiphanies. They are the Light that guides and gives strength when everything goes dark. They are the light that guides one through despair just as the Transfiguration was a Light to guide the Apostles through the Passion of Christ.
He thought quietly while staring at a blank sheet of paper, “half the year is through (sigh)”. “Gone, disappeared, vanquished”. He knew that from the reading Mt 17:1-9 as it always occurs halfway through the year as if it were the fulcrum of a seesaw. Oddly, he pondered, the story is also halfway through Mat’s gospel. He had passed the halfway point through life years back. Short, fat, bald and old; he was now an elder and at what point had life changed? When did he become the elder, the presbyter? He had studied some Greek in his youth, he knew presbyteros translates elder and the root presbys bluntly screams old man. At some point his life had changed. Mat’s passage had reminded him of that, and he needed something to say. He needed to write something before tomorrow morning. A deadline was looming.
The story was well-known, Jesus and a couple close disciples climb a mountain. On the top of that mountain Peter James and John had witnessed something about Jesus. The scripture stated “his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” He was transfigured, but what did that mean? And then the story mentions Moses and Elijah. And then the voice from the cloud “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased, listen to him.”
That last line spoke of an epiphany, God often spoke from clouds in the Old Testament. It was a cloud that led the Israelites on their exodus journey. Epiphanies are divine revelations and at that moment those disciples got a glimpse of the truth of that Jesus they had followed. Interesting but there must be more. Moses certainly was an important figure, they had followed Jesus as the Hebrews had followed Moses. Elijah the fiery prophet that urged a king to return to the God of Israel. For certain those disciples saw the Christ as prophet. The tent indicated they wished to remain stagnant, but scripture stated the LORD commanded them not to. That mountain top was not a journey complete. Scratching that bald head he pondered on how to shed light on a testament that was clear as day. His brow became furrowed, and his face red. His pencil lightly grazed the paper, its marks were more doodles than sentences.
Staring at that paper he thought, the transfiguration did not end at that mountain top, it was a point on a journey. A milestone, a shift of the teeter-tot. This, then that. The location is important. A moment when divinity was revealed. The tent hinted stability, they also hinted the feast of the tabernacle. Sukkot. The festival of booths. It is not just a moment when they witnessed the divine, it was a moment when they let the divine enter them. It was not simply the clouds that opened, so did their souls. They were not simply witnesses, but participants. And then the journey down. Like the seesaw they change directions, they go back to where they are from. A furrowed brow becomes a grimaced smile. Things are taking shape he thought.
On that journey down the mountain, were the disciples about to become the presbys? Elders? Certainly one can’t forget the timeline, time has a tendency to sneak up on people. At least that is what the short, fat, bald and old guy thought. Transfigured in the wrong direction (youth to old), but what of those disciples. They had walked with Christ for a while, and how did that walk influence them. Did they walk differently, or talk differently? How were they transfigured? The message on the mountaintop tells they saw something life changing. How did their life change? Was the change visible? Scratching his scalp he had to think yes. The old don’t act like the young. They look and act differently, and that is easy to notice. The disciples looked and acted differently too. They had to, and people must have noticed. Their manners must have changed, what they valued must have shifted. As they walked with Christ, they became like him? An analogy he pondered. A face illuminated? A spark to a bonfire? Young to old? A few quick scribbles on the paper about a thought to develop later. Fat fingers fidgeted with pencil and paper as he scrawled his text.
The grumpy, fat and bald and old man thought “of course those disciples had changed” such changes are expected to take place. No one expects a student to remain a student forever, eventually they take on the characteristics of the Master. If they don’t they are flunkies! Peter James and John are not flunkies! But if they changed what does that mean, what happened when they leave that mountain top.
“Sure, they changed” he scribbled on that piece of paper but did the world around them? There is the point. They changed, but the world did not. Their reception? A scratch of the chin, what does history say? History starts with the crucifixion, and continues with martyrdom. For certain they were changed, but there still were challenges to face. More than they knew. The world would not embrace their new-found discovery. Do they move forward or go back. Time moves in one direction, opinions and emotions teeter totter. To move forward with Christ is to walk into an opposition. For Christians, it isn’t Christ that changes. It’s the Christians that change, in fact they are commanded to. The command Jesus gave was “follow me” and to truly follow Him is to be transfigured. To follow him is to be changed. To follow Him is to become Christian and that changes ones appearance and demeanor. To follow Him is to confront an opponent.
A soft grumbling of the fat bald and red-faced old man could be heard as he put down the pencil and leaned back. Arm’s crossed and with his smuggest smile, he found a way to explain something that already was clear as day. He knew it was time for his reward ; couple of cookies and a small glass of milk. Sure his scalp and circumference and age suggested whiskey and cigar, but he had other ideas. Go figure.
Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
Dn 7:9-10, 13-14
Ps 97:1-2, 5-6, 9
2 Pt 1:16-19
Ok, I get it. An angel falls and a serpent slithers up a tree. Cain versus Abel, and Joseph into slavery, an exile and an exodus. Free will and good versus evil. Challenges and pitfalls. Pitfalls and a very (very) deep pit. Pushed into a cistern, and pushed to hell. A struggle to rise. It is the grand battle, and a grand chaos of a fallen order. I understand a messiah in the simplest of terms. I understand leaders like Moses, like Caesar, like Herod, like a pharaoh; and ultimately like the Son of God. I can understand the messiah of the nativity. I understand the messiah of Easter, and the need for the Apostles to record the resurrection of Christ. I understand they did so to the best of their abilities. I can also understand the Messiahs need to ascend, and the amount of time Jesus spent explaining His return to the Father. Finally I get the Holy Spirit, and how it proceeds from the Father and Son. With that ascent and decent, the serpent is crushed. That is the end game, the conclusion.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always,
the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept,
because it neither sees nor knows him.
But you know him, because he remains with you,
and will be in you.
I will not leave you orphans
The feast of the Ascension and Pentecost defuse the other Messiahs. It steals their thunder, it silences their voice. It allows, in the quietness of contemplation, one to hear the truth. It explains why at the resurrection only a few select followers were permitted entry to the vision. To see they first had to seek. They had to die themselves, so that they might rise anew. They had to answer that first call to “follow me.” Follow me was through cavalry, and into the grave. It was to walk with Christ, and to die to the world. It also was to rise again, and to see anew. There was the vision of a risen LORD. It was the journey of their baptism, their death and life.
This is a transition, from Easter to Ascension. It is a transition of a God that needs to rise on earth and be present here. That speaks of an eternal presence, and eternity is nothing easy to understand. It is a presence that is alpha and omega, first and last. Eternal. The transition is also one where the physical transitions to the eternal. That ascension leaves no room for false prophet, it does make that path for spirit. Eternal is not something easy to understand.
Sixth Sunday of Easter
The transfiguration is always an interesting reading with many details that each individually tell a subtly different emphasis to that transfiguration of Christ witnessed by those apostles on that mountaintop. It can be the placement of the story within the gospel that gives emphasis to a journey and also a learning curve. It can be the mention of pitching the tents, and the meaning of tents within the Jewish tradition. It can emphasize the epiphany and those words spoken, “this is my beloved Son.” Every detail, and every line of that testament is rich with meaning. Mt 17:1-9
Sometimes it is rewarding to look at that story at its most simple element. It is the Transfiguration of Jesus where the Apostle’s witness Jesus as divine and hear him announced as the Son of God. It is an epiphany. It is interesting to look at that gospel account, and also to look at where that gospel is being proclaimed. It is the gospel reading being proclaimed at Mass during the liturgy of the word. It is also proclaimed half way through the biblical gospel . It is proclaimed on the second Sunday of Lent, a few weeks before the Easter feast. It is proclaimed on a mountain top, after an ascent and before a decent. What makes that interesting is that proclamation can be taken as part of a timeline, it concludes the first half of the liturgy.
Following that part of the liturgy is that liturgy of the Eucharist where bread and wine is transfigured, or more properly the transubstantiation into the body and blood of Christ. In looking at that transfiguration on a mountaintop in the context of the Mass, one can view that event not simply as a historical account but rather as something we also witness within the Mass. We take that journey as the Mass processes from beginning to conclusion, and we can envision those tents through the tabernacle and more importantly within ourselves. We hear those words, “this is my beloved Son” as “behold, the Body of Christ.” This is Jesus who takes away the sins of the world.” Upon reception of communion, we walk with Christ to continue that journey.
In a historical context, the Transfiguration occurs prior to the Passion events. It often is described as an event that builds the faith of the disciples so that they might endure the crucifixion of the LORD. The road they walk is difficult, and it is about to become treacherous. The transfiguration gives them strength, as the transubstantiation of the Eucharist does for us. For an instant they get a glimpse of Christ’s divinity.
The appearance of Moses and Elijah gives the disciples the link to their faith, they serve as witness to this event. It is a reminder of where they have travelled from. The Mass does not simply read from the Gospel of the New Testament, that New Testament is related to the Old. A simple reminder, and the touch of Jesus a reminder that their journey is not yet complete. They have been enlightened and nourished but they must continue their walk. Moses face also glows in the presence of God, he descends with the tablets. Jesus with the Apostles. An important point on a journey, but not the journey’s end.
When the disciples hear “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” they fall prostrate afraid, but Jesus touches them and says “Rise and be not afraid.” And He says tell no one until he is raised from the dead. The touch and the command are common in Jesus healings. Jesus frequently heals those around him, but tells them to tell no one. This time though He tells them to wait until after He is raised from the dead. When do they speak and tell of what they saw? Later Thomas will touch His wounds. Touch is important, it heals.
Lent like Advent is a season of preparation. Both seasons remind us often what we must do to prepare for the LORD. Lent is full of devotionals that we participate in to better prepare ourselves for Easter. Its trio of Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving come quickly to mind. This gospel isn’t so much about what we have to do, but it is about what we have to get through trials. They are the gifts Jesus Christ left us. Like the Apostles and disciples we walk with Christ on a journey, and along that journey Christ has given us gifts to help us along the way. They are his Church, and the successors to the Apostles. They are the scriptures, the gospels. They are the prayers and the sacraments, and they are the Mass. They are the same gifts that guided the Apostles as they walked with the LORD even if they did not always recognize them.
(this is an expanded version of an earlier post)
Second Sunday of Lent
“I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.” That is the phrase that strikes me this Sunday, that and that God so loved us that He sent his only Son. While God spares Abrahams son from the sacrifice on the altar, Jesus will soon be sacrificed on the cross. Abrahams willingness to sacrifice is son also is something that echoes throughout Jesus gospel, it is that willingness to die unto oneself to obtain eternal life. By Abrahams willingness to sacrifice his inheritance, his heirs , his inheritance is to become as numerous as the stars. So much of that Old Testament account is proclaimed in Jesus gospel. It contains those familiar contradictions of death and life, surrender and victory, loss and gain. In the light of Christ that sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham makes sense.
To tie in that first reading with the second readings account of the transfiguration though takes some effort. The uniting theme at first is when God appears on the mountain of the transfiguration and says “this is my beloved Son.” That statement is an epiphany to those disciples, and in that epiphany I also can see the epiphany of Abraham. That epiphany is that he does not need to sacrifice his son to prove his devotion to God. That epiphany, of not having to sacrifice a human life, is one that has so much relevance in today’s society. Again thoughts turn to the terror and slaughter taking place not to far from both these biblical events. It is the terror reigning where people once again kill in the name of God. They too should listen when God tells them to put down their knife.
One of the questions many people ask regarding the Transfiguration is why those three closest disciples were offered that glimpse of Christ’s divine glory. A reason often given is that they needed that divine vision to endure the horrors of the cross.That agony they were to witness required that divine vision of the Transfiguration. They needed to see the beauty of God’s kingdom to nourish them through the horrors of mankind that they were about to witness.As I think of those disciples on that mountaintop and the vision that they witnessed, I also think of how important it is today for people to see the beauty of God and all that God has created for the same reason those disciples needed to witness the transfiguration. As that moment helped them endure and understand the Passion of Christ in the weeks to come, we also need that vision of Gods beauty to carry us through the ugliness of this world.The ugliness of that world two thousand plus years ago still exists today. The horror, and the terror, and torture and disregard for human life that possessed much of ancient society still makes itself known today. It makes itself known through acts of terrorism and murder and torture; but the ugliness is not always through the violence of war.
Even in orderly law abiding societies a culture far removed from that vision the Apostles witnessed can flourish. It can be any instance where a person is degraded, or exploited, or life is not valued. That ugliness can show itself through the neglect of the poor, the elderly, or through the exploitation of youth. It is that same culture of death where abortion thrives, or euthanasia and assisted suicides takes hold; where vulnerable people are manipulated for mere financial considerations, where a dollar valued more than a life. To carry us through the ugliness of even an ordered society we too need to witness that vision of Gods beauty so that we don’t become complacent with the visions of the blind and impaired. We need that beauty of God to recognize much of the ugliness of our own making. Important also in witnessing that beauty is placing an effort in finding it, to reach the top of a mountain one must do some climbing. It takes effort to seek out that beauty, to open ones eyes, and to quietly listen. Abraham after all did hear the command to offer his son as a holocaust, and he also heard the command to stop. He did not close his ears. The Apostles witnessed both the Transfiguration and the Crucifixion, and ultimately the Resurrection. They did not close their eyes, their ears, or their hearts.