Did you know that our Christian brothers and sisters proclaim the gospel of the Transfiguration on the Sunday before Lent while we hear it this 2nd Sunday of Lent? For them it is the end of the liturgical season of Epiphany that starts with the first revelation of the Christ child to the world and end with the account of the divine glory of God being revealed in the person of Jesus. There is a lovely symmetry to that. On the first Sunday in Lent, both traditions proclaim Jesus’ temptation in the desert – and with the exception of this Sunday, both traditions proclaim the same Gospels for the remainder of Lent.
But symmetry aside, I rather prefer the Transfiguration reading right here on this Sunday. The story of the temptation has many nuances, but it was also a time of preparation for Jesus as He began his mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God – and all the stiff resistance He would encounter. The Transfiguration also has many nuances, but it was a moment of preparation for the Apostles as they began to follow Jesus down the mountain to Jerusalem, the events of Holy Week, and all that would transpire – and rock their faith. And yet, there was this one moment of divine brilliance to anchor their hope and faith in some of the dark days to come. It is a moment for us to recall when we find ourselves in wilderness times.
St. Mark warned us right before the Transfiguration account as Jesus “the crowd with his disciples and said to them, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.’” (Mk 8). Immediately following the Transfiguration, we get to follow Jesus right off the mountain top, back down to the here below of everyday life. Down to the challenges of life, down to the problems and discomforts and discouragements that are part and parcel of our life in this world, down to the wildernesses of this life. The ones unbidden and unwelcomed. And there to see and understand what is revealed by the light of the Transfiguration.
Down here in the wilderness far from the mountain top, what is it the Light of Christ reveals for you? There are many possibilities. It could be a call to make sure you are on the right Lenten journey, reflecting on your life before God, taking advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and making room for God in your life – a very personal vision.
I also think it must be that there is something deeply Lenten about this reading. This reading calls us to remember that we are Catholic – we are not people of this or that, but people of the both-and. Is the Eucharist a symbol or the Real Presence of Christ? Both-and. Are we saved by faith or works from that faith? Both-and. Does the Transfiguration ask us to focus on the divine light of Jesus or on what the light reveals? Both-and. And that can be challenging.
Wednesday evening. Fr. Lalo and I were here in the Church to celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation. Very few people came – in fact they all went to Fr. Lalo! I had lots of time to begin to think about this homily. I had some notes, some ideas, and some musing. At some point, I decided to pray the Stations of the Cross, a wonderful Lenten tradition. It too is an epiphany, a revelation of the deep abiding love of Christ for us. About half-way through, I started to think about were the Stations also a kind of Transfiguration of Jesus. Certainly, not in the classic understanding, but did the Stations reveal the glory of God? St. John the Evangelist simply says, “God is love.” The Stations are this panorama of the depth of the love of God for us. It is the purest light of love on display for us. How can one not fix one’s eyes on the light of Jesus alone?
Because Jesus asked something more of us: This is my commandment: love one another as I love you” (John 15:12) – and we are people of the both-and.
And so, I started over with the First Station, “Jesus is condemned to death.” And the reflection became, “what do I see in the light” followed by “what does the light reveal?” Some of my reflection was personal, confessional, and some was outward looking into the world – from Triangle to the farthest end of the globe. There are too many examples of people condemned to a living death. Innocents forced to live a completely miserable, joyless existence, devoid of hope. The displaced person in refugee camps. The families caught in the crossfire of never-ending drugs wars. The family that is caught in the vicious cycle of poverty.
The second station, “Jesus carries his cross.” The cross of domestic violence, the cross of violence on our city streets. The cross of not having opportunity. The cross of employment and health care. The cross of racism. The cross of this pandemic.
The stations where Jesus falls a first, a second and a third time. All the stations, moments of Transfiguration. Moment calling us to see the God who loves us and to see those who God loves in the world.
The Transfiguration has many nuances. It was a moment of preparation for the Apostles; it is a moment of preparation for us to be disciples in a world far wider than ourselves. A world in which if one were to list all the lives hopeless and devoid of joy, one’s faith might falter. But we are disciples of both-and. Just as the Way of the Cross is a story of death it is also a story of love. In the same way, every moment of despair and human misery, is also an opportunity to love, to let the light of the Transfigured Christ shine into the world – to reveal what is ours to do.