14 Mar Second Sunday in Lent
March 12, 2017
Deacon Blaine Barclay
Second Sunday in Lent
In the middle of things, in the middle of the pilgrimage of Lent, walking in the way of the cross toward Easter, the Church gives to us for our meditation the mystery of the Transfiguration.
In each of the different gospels the Transfiguration story takes place between Jesus teaching about his passion and cross. Between the book ends of the cross, so to speak, we are given an anticipation, a taste of the glory of Easter. The transfiguration is like a really good movie trailer of the great drama of the metamorphosis of the flesh that will take place in the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
The disciples, however, don’t want to hear any of this talk of death and the cross. It doesn’t correspond to their agenda, their vision of what the Messiah, the Christ, is about. Perhaps they are still dreaming of political sovereignty and freedom from Roman rule. In the Transfiguration event God is about to shatter their Messianic dreams. “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him”, we are told, even when you don’t like what he is saying.
Peter, James, and John go on a retreat with Jesus. ’’He led them up a high mountain by themselves”, it says. Tradition tells us that it was Mount Tabor. Scripture is filled with stories of God being revealed in extraordinary ways on a mountain. Moses and the burning bush; Moses and the 10 commandments; Moses just before the people enter into the promised land; Elijah in the mountain cave with the still small voice; the mountain of Jesus’ last temptation in the desert; Jesus and the sermon on the mount; now, the mountain of the Transfiguration, mount Tabor. I for one can understand this association of mountains with the presence of God. Mountains are what the Irish call ’Thin places’; places where it is easier to sense and experience the presence of God.
What happened on this mountain? Nothing short of the metamorphosis of the face, flesh, and even the garments of Jesus. ’’And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white”; the gospel tells us. This is a transformation so totally other that it can only be described with the same word we use to describe the difference between a caterpillar and a butterfly. ’’His face shone like the sun’’, it says. Think about it for a moment, could we even gaze upon such a face, shining like the sun, except with our peripheral vision, with a sideways glance, with adverted humble heart. The veil is torn aside for this brief moment of encounter. ’’This is my son… The light of the world… Listen to him.’’ Even his clothes become dazzling white, something unheard of at the time. What ever the metamorphized flesh of Christ touches is itself totally transformed. How much more so, we who are his body in the world.
But Jesus is not alone, who he is and what he is about is in radical continuity with the law and the prophets, represented by the fact that Moses and Elijah appear with him on the mountain. Luke’s gospel even has Jesus entering into a conversation with Moses and Elijah. Christian faith is still an intimate conversation with the law and the prophets. Of course, Jesus is more than the law and the prophets. He is the Son, the Beloved, whose face is shining like the sun.
Up until now we are not told that the disciples were afraid. Perhaps they were too bedazzled by the excess of light, to engaged by the presence and conversation of Jesus with Moses and Elijah. Peter James and John only become afraid, the gospel tells us, when, ’’A bright cloud overshadowed them’’, and when they heard the Voice. Our gospel says, ’’When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.’’ What is this bright, shining, radiant cloud that overshadowed them? Is this the luminous darkness that the mystics speak of? An excess of light so saturated with God’s presence that it can only appear as darkness to us, a cloud that shields and protects at the same time that it shimmers with the presence of the holy. No ordinary fear does this voice and cloud inspire. It literally blows them away, reduces them to ground zero. They fall on the ground in fear. Un-concealing, overwhelming, is the presence of God in Christ. Veiled in the flesh, but an overflowing plenitude to the eyes of faith.
And in this moment of their own transfiguration in faith, overcome by fear because of what they have seen and heard; What happens next? We are told that, ’’Jesus came and ‘touched them’, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid’. No longer with the metamorphized, transfigured flesh, shining like the sun, he touches them with the flesh of ordinary human flesh. A touch that says to them and to us, ’’Do not be afraid…Listen to him…Do not be afraid’’. Get up, th