Transfiguration

It seems something of an odd time of year to observe such an auspicious event. Clearly we associate Lent with ashes, sacrifice, difficulty, maybe scarcity, lack, even darkness (as opposed to light and brightness). However, this particular Sunday we dwell on one of the “brightest” moments in the life of Christ, and, one might say, one of God the Father’s proudest moments.

Before that, though, we hear the account of another father’s worst and darkest day. We hear the story of Abraham taking his son, Isaac, for a journey from which only one of them would return, on orders to kill his own son as an offering to God. This is one of those stories that seems so strange because of what Abraham is told to do by God. Would God truly ask us to kill our own offspring?

Well, the answer is somewhat complicated. He would — and does — ask each and every one of us to put him first in our heart. There will be times that may feel like a death. At the last moment, God’s messenger stays the hand of Abraham, sparing Abraham tremendous anguish and sparing Isaac his life.

What would humanity have gained through Abraham’s sacrifice, had he carried it out? Isaac was only one boy, the son of a man. His death would have gained humanity nothing. Therefore, I would contend it was never the will of God that Abraham kill Isaac, but merely that Abraham would love God more than his own flesh and blood, his hard-earned and long-awaited son.

The difference, of course, is that Jesus, while of the line of Abraham, was no son of Abraham. Rather, he is the Son of Man and the Son of God; his death would mean something. Jesus’ death would not be some mere symbol of faith; it would do something for all humanity.

Because of Abraham’s faith, humanity itself gained a long-awaited Son of its own, and a hard-earned salvation, because of the sacrifice of self that that Son would carry out. In a verse omitted from this passage, recall that Abraham tells Isaac that God himself would provide a lamb for sacrifice. God would not spare even his own Son to acquit us, as we hear in the second reading.

This leads us to today’s Gospel, where Christ reveals to Peter, James and John his glory, and his standing in the Kingdom of God. Jesus, the one whom they had followed and stayed with for just a handful of years, stands at the center of the Kingdom of God, the true aim and destination of the prophecy of Elijah and the exodus begun by Moses — Jesus, the lamb provided by God.

I picture the Transfiguration as a church building we might see today. Jesus stands at the center, and all eyes look to him. Two of the great heroes of the faith bear witness to Jesus’ own role and importance, just as any of the saints we may cite — or for whom we name our parishes or children. We all fill the pews, kneeling along with Peter, James and John. Some of us slack-jawed in wonder, some of us more delirious and overcome, like Peter.

Where do you find yourself in this scene? Do you take a place near the front, already near the mystery, overhearing the words of Moses and Elijah (and all the Saints), as they converse with Jesus? Are you already eager to know the meaning of rising from the dead? Perhaps you sit far in the back, struggling to not only hear the words pronounced from the cloud, but also struggling to even see the mystery as it unfolds before all.

This season stands as an invitation to come forward, to move up, to take a place closer to the heart of the unfolding mystery of Jesus’ lordship. Let us press in together, closer together, crowding around to gaze in awe upon the Lord, beloved of God and beloved of our souls.

Lent is our moment to begin to give the love of God priority over and above — maybe at the expense of — the earthly loves we have created or set up as of most importance. This is the time for us to just begin to learn that the words of the Father are meant not just for our hearing, but that they speak of our destiny, too. Indeed, it is good that we are here!

David Dunst
Music Director

 

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