I don’t know about you but this Gospel was not what I was expecting for a Lenten Gospel. When I went to start praying over my homily I was ready for something more… I don’t know… something more penitential, maybe? A gospel about conversion… or prayer… or something that sounds like Lent. Instead we have the story of the Transfiguration. And what’s more, it turns out that even though the Lectionary has a three year cycle, it uses the Transfiguration on the second Sunday of Lent every single year. So it really got me wondering what the message was about the Transfiguration that is so important to hear at the start of Lent.
Maybe somewhere there is an official answer, but my heart kept being drawn to the experience of Peter, James, and John. They are not very impressive figures in this Gospel. In the Transfiguration they see Jesus literally in a new light, and this revelation both demands a response but is also so overwhelming that no appropriate response could ever be given. Peter struggles to say something appropriate, suggesting that they build some shrines, and while he’s still speaking the cloud comes down with the voice of God completely ignoring him. Then all three of them fall prostrate with fear and Jesus tells them to rise and not be afraid. It’s as if their every instinct just didn’t measure up, like they are bumbling their way in front of the glory of Christ revealed.
Some days that’s a lot like what Lent feels like. In Lent we remember the preaching of Jesus and his call for us to live our lives better, to turn eagerly back to a life of complete holiness, and we also begin to see Jesus transfigured in his Passion – the Son of God who whole heart is filled with love and mercy such that he could undergo his brutal death for our sake. And even in the midst of his suffering he endures it with forgiveness on his lips. And here we are, fumbling to make some response. We take on the Lenten observances of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving and do whatever else might be our personal customs for Lent. And hopefully a couple of times during this Lent those practices will bring us to a moment when it all sinks in and we see Christ before us, the Word that spoke and brought us into existence… bloodied, beaten, and killed out of love for us. What I’m talking about is that moment when we look up at the cross and know that nothing we have ever done in our lives demonstrates the sorrow for sin and the love for him that we know we should have. And in that moment we will be just like Ss. Peter, James, and John, knowing that nothing we say or do can measure up to what we receive.
So what the Transfiguration says to me in the context of Lent is that Lent is about so much more than just our own efforts. It’s about receiving a new vision of our Lord… and being humbled in that vision! And God willing when you find that moment this Lent know also the words that follow it: Rise, and do not be afraid. Jesus looks at us who fumble to respond to all that he has done – us who at times manage to barely appreciate and understand all that he has done – and he says, “rise, do not be afraid.” Brothers and sisters we have a long journey of Lent before us, but hear in this Gospel what we can expect in the days to come. A new vision of Christ, filled with love and mercy, which we cannot possibly deserve but is given to us all the same.
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.