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The Second Sunday of Lent
February 25, 2018

     If you’re anything like me, you started Lent with a bang, but the reality of six long weeks may have begun to set in and your initial fervor may have begun to flag. The Church had this in mind when it came up with today’s readings. They encourage us by giving us a glimpse of the finish line or, in the language of the Olympics, they ‘fast-forward’ us to the awards ceremony --to the winners’ podium: to the gold, the silver, the bronze! Christ gloriously transfigured on the mountaintop is the finish line: he’s there to fire our imaginations and strengthen our weak knees for the journey that lies ahead.

     And in case that vision of glory is not enough, the church reinforces it by reaching way back to the vision God once gave to Abraham, our father in faith, in the midst of his long journey – a journey that took him far from home, a journey on which, at one point, he nearly lost his beloved son.  When all was uncertainty for Abraham, and God’s promise to make him the father of a great nation must have seemed almost silly, God led him outside and opened his eyes to a magnificent vision.  The vast dark vault of the heavens studded with stars beyond number would be the measure of his progeny, God told him.  And that was enough for Abraham.  He could continue the journey.

     It’s good for us, at this stage of our Lenten journey, to see star-studded skies and to see a vision of Christ brilliant as the sun.  It’s especially good for our Elect, preparing for Baptism and the Easter sacraments.  Their Lenten journey will end beneath a starry sky out in front of the cathedral at the Easter Vigil as the new fire is lit and they are led into the Cathedral by the great Easter candle, the sign of Christ risen and gloriously transfigured.

     Visions.  We all need them to help us find our way and to sustain us along the way.  And God is generous in giving them (although we don’t always see them).  Moses and Elijah, those two companions of the transfigured Jesus on the mountaintop, were favored with visions when they needed them.  When God called Moses to stand down the great Pharaoh and lead his people from slavery to freedom, he appeared to him and called out to him from the mysterious burning bush.  And when Elijah, weary from running for his life and discouraged about life in general, hid in a cave on the mountainside, God passed by the entrance of the cave and spoke to him in a “still, small voice,” the sound of a gentle breeze.  What would Moses and Elijah have done without those visions?!

     But visions don’t come to the unaware, and the great visions seem almost always to come during prayer. I doubt Jesus climbed Mt. Tabor for the view (although, having been there, I can tell you that it’s a spectacular one!). I think Jesus climbed the mountain to pray, to commune with his Father. Mark’s telling of the story which is the one we heard doesn’t give us that detail, but Luke’s does, and it makes sense, doesn’t it? – makes sense that it was while Jesus was communing with his Father in prayer that the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became dazzling white.  Prayer is the climate for visions and transformations - the climate God uses to break through our human darkness to reveal the divine face.  And what a helpful reminder that is early in the season of Lent, this season that is defined by prayer.  We are being told today that if we will but slow down a bit, idle our racing engines, seek quiet, peaceful corners in the midst of our noisy and demanding lives, the vision will come.  It may not be dramatic but it will be real, and we will meet God.

     But a warning: visions can be a mixed blessing.  They almost always take us to new places and not always to places we would choose to go.  That was true for Abraham, Moses, and Elijah, and it was also true for Peter, James, and John on the mountain of transfiguration.  Right after they saw the Lord in glory and were making their way down the mountain, Jesus began speaking to them about his impending death – how he would be delivered into the hands of those who would put him to death and that three days later he would rise.  How confusing that must have been for the three disciples.  Just when all their questions had been answered in a spectacular and dazzling way on the mountaintop, out of nowhere Jesus raises new and troubling questions by speaking about his death. Like Moses, Jesus was about to embark on a challenging exodus through death to life; like Elijah, he was going to pay a high price for his prophetic fidelity.

     All of this should speak to us.  We don’t relish talk of suffering and death any more than Peter, James and John did, yet deal with them we must.  And face them.  And Lent is the ideal time to do so. For Lent, my friends, is not only Transfiguration time, it’s transformation time: time for dealing with the ultimate things of life, time for leaving the old behind, time for going to new places.

      Those friends on the mountaintop assure us that we do not make our Lenten journey alone. Nor do we make it in the dark.  The brief but brilliant vision of Christ in glory can light our Lenten journey all the way to Easter.

Father Michael G. Ryan





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Seattle, Washington  98104
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