HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR C (FEB 21)
Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
It may seem surprising to some that the story of the Transfiguration comes during Lent. The reason why is that this story in Luke comes right after the first prediction of the suffering and death of Jesus. Luke has juxtaposed those two moments because the death of Jesus will not negate the glorification of Jesus. They will work in tandem for our salvation. And those are the two themes we draw together during our Lenten journey.
The story of the Transfiguration is told in other Gospels as well, so I would like to concentrate on what Luke brings to this story. First of all, Luke is very aware of some parallels in the Old Testament between Jesus and Moses going up to the mountain and what happens to them there. Moses is, in fact, present at both events. When Moses on Sinai first talked to God, his face shone, and similarly we have a shining of Jesus’ face at the beginning of Luke’s rendition.
Luke also positions it much like he positioned Jesus’ baptism. After he was baptized, but before he went off into the desert, God’s voice declared who Jesus was. Here, after he speaks about his passion to come, but before he starts on the journey to Jerusalem, God again speaks and reiterates that Jesus is His Son. Luke’s transfiguration is a sign to the three apostles that Jesus, who just told them he would have to go to Jerusalem to die, must be obeyed, and it would be to his eventual glory.
What else does Luke add to this familiar story? First of all, Jesus goes up to the mountain to pray. Mountains have always been symbolic of a place closer to God. It is when Jesus is praying that the transfiguration takes place, and in Luke, there are many mentions of Jesus having such a prayer life. We saw it at his baptism and a number of times while he was teaching and he had to get away from the crowds to pray.
Secondly, only in Luke do we find out what Jesus and the two prophets were talking about. Our translation says: [they] were speaking of his exodus, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Jesus is discussing this with Moses who represents the law and Elijah who represents the prophets, symbolically showing that the Law and the Prophets both predict the Messiah and his suffering. The term that is used to tell us what they are talking about is “exodus” and we know from our Bible history what a loaded term that is for Jews. An exodus is a leaving, literally, and Jesus will be leaving by dying, but in doing so will accomplish what the Biblical exodus did, which is to save God’s people.
When we get back to the Apostles, we note that they were very sleepy. It seems they tended to fall asleep a lot when Jesus is praying, doesn’t it? This time, though, they stayed awake to see the transfiguration taking place. Peter’s reaction in which he wanted to mark the spot with some sort of memorial is interrupted by a cloud and a voice of God. Clouding is a Biblical way of saying that God was approaching because no one could withstand the brightness of God. What God says: This is my Son, my chosen. Listen to him,” is a confirmation for Jesus that he is following the will of God, that what he will do has the backing of the Law and the Prophets, and that his disciples must obey him on the way to Jerusalem, even if they felt he was doing something wrong. Jesus was to be heard because he was the culmination of the Law and the Prophets; everything which had gone before would now be revealed.
In Luke’s account, Jesus and the Apostles hear the same words but they have different meanings for each. For Jesus, it is a confirmation that God wants him to take the way of the cross. For the Apostles, it was a mystic experience, but as we will see in the next few weeks, they have not yet put all the pieces together, and while they know they must “listen to” Jesus, on direct order from God, they are not yet clear about what they are listening for. It will not be till after “Lent”, till they experience the resurrection, that they will be able to piece it together and understand it.
The first reading does not seem to have a clear connection to the Transfiguration but is another example of God talking to a human. Abram’s clear recognition of God, his ability to really “hear” God, justifies him, and God is able to promise that his descendants will be the chosen people and they will inherit the land. It is out of this initial covenant or contract that we can look at the completion of that contract with Jesus himself.
St. Paul to the Philippians today looks back with new understanding now of all that has happened with the Cross of Christ. He has put all the puzzle pieces together and realizes what the death of Christ has meant in salvation history. We are lesser beings but because of the Savior, Jesus Christ, we can be “conformed to the body of his glory.” It is through the cross that we have achieved a part in Jesus’ glory, which is God’s glory.
So it is fitting then that the Transfiguration be read to us during what is usually a penitential period of the church year. We get a glimpse of the final Easter glory while we know that to get there we have to go through the passion and the cross.
And that is often true in our lives as well. We can align our sufferings, our fears, our disappointments with those that Christ knew were coming to him, but if we remain faithful, we, too, can convert those into something glorious. That may not be until we have died and are with God, but often we get glimpses of it when our sufferings and things we don’t understand bring us to something better in this life as well.
This Lent, let us try to realize the great mystery and sadness of the Passion and the greater glory and joy of the Resurrection, and may we experience a few transfigurations of our own as we make the journey to our final rewards. All we need to do is listen to him!
And this is the Good News I pray for you each day. God bless.