Feb 27, 2015

2nd Lent Sunday: "Hear Him"

Have you ever woken in the middle of the night from a dream that was so real you wondered if it had really happened?  The dream experience was so real, right along with feelings and perhaps sounds in your mind, that you could not shake the memory all day.  That may have been something of what Peter, James and John experienced in this Sunday's Gospel.  Yet, it was no dream.

Our Gospel for this coming Sunday (Mk 9: 2-10) brings three of the Apostles face to face with a profound mystical experience of Jesus.  As Jesus led them up "a high mountain apart by themselves . . .he was transfigured before them and his clothes became dazzling white such as no fuller on earth could bleach them." 

Imagine staring directly at the sun yet your eyes feel no pain or have no damage.  Maybe that is something like what Peter, James and John witnessed on that mountain.  Jesus did not disappear in a blinding light for they could still recognize him, standing there with Moses and the prophet Elijah!  No doubt they were struck speechless and unprepared for this strange event.  That is speechless except for Peter.

"Rabbi," Peter excitedly blurts out, "it is good that we are here!  let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."  Mark continues: "He hardly knew what to say, they were terrified." No kidding.  Wouldn't anyone of us in turn be terrified as well?  In a flash, likely, Jesus is presented in divine splendor and with him two long dead great Jewish figures who represented a blending of the Covenant between God and his people:  Moses who received the great Law on Sinai, the Ten Commandments, and Elijah the great prophet who foreshadowed the coming of the Messiah. Both now present to them in conversation with Jesus.  What was this all about?

For an instant, in order to embolden these particular Apostles and through them the others for the coming passion and death of Jesus, Jesus is revealed in divine glory.  That divine nature, which was hidden during his life on earth, was now uncovered in order that the Apostles would remember this event after the shock of his death on the cross.  It is a kind of preparation for his resurrection glory. But, did they comprehend all of that?  Not likely in that vision alone. 

Then, as at Jesus' baptism, a voice from heaven speaks: "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him." With that additional sound it was almost more than the Apostles could bear as it abruptly ended.  I would assume that Jesus well knew these men were overwhelmed by this yet how could they ever forget what they saw and heard? 

It seems, as most scripture scholars have pointed out, to be a "theophany."  A visible manifestation of the presence of God given only to a few such as the burning bush with Moses on Mount Sinai.  Yet for a crucial purpose.  In this case that they would be prepared for the much darker days ahead and know that what appeared to be the end, would only be the beginning.  So, before those days Jesus take place, in order to process this event and place it in its proper context, Jesus tells his Apostles to keep this a secret.  Good thing in a way because if they had tried to explain what they saw who would believe them? Besides, as they wondered, what does "rising from the dead" even mean?  

The darkest days of Jesus' life were approaching and he knew these chosen men would be deeply disillusioned and shaken and we know they were.  Yet this moment of glory would create a memory to put all things in perspective in its proper time. 

What about us?  Lent, it seems, is filled with reminder about the importance of prayer and sacrifice.  This season of grace is a call to deeper and stronger faith.  In the face of sadness or even in moments of joy do we see the face of God operative?  Not always.  This season is a call to put all things in perspective; all things in a faith that trusts that God is ultimately in control.

That's a tall order for us in today's culture.  With the savage persecution of Christians and other innocent people of faith in parts of the world we may feel hard pressed to see the hand of God in this.  To be "transfigured" is to be changed into a new form.  So it seems from the Jesus experience in our Gospel this Sunday. 

While we are not called to walk around with our clothes dazzling white we are invited to a deeper faith.  The Apostles and many who followed Jesus would be scandalized and feel abandoned by the passion of our Lord.  On the mere surface it must have been a time of great disappointment.  What possible purpose could that have served? 

Only post-resurrection would the suffering of Jesus make sense.  Maybe we need to pray for a faith that holds on tight even in the midst of confusion and doubt.  Considering everything happening today we have many reasons to doubt the benevolence of God let alone if he exists at all!  And many have simply given up or outright deny him. 

Yet, for us Christians the darkest days can turn into the brightest light.  May we find our lives changed and our faith made strong in this holy season. May the mystery of God hidden under the signs of bread and wine challenge us to place our faith in the word he has spoken. 

O God who have commanded us
to listen to your beloved Son,
be please we pray,
to nourish us inwardly by your word,
that with spiritual sight made pure,
we may rejoice to behold your glory.

(Collect of Sunday)