We’ve come to the 2nd Sunday of Lent. Last Sunday we heard the Gospel of the Temptation. We saw our Lord in a desert, weak with hunger, tempted by the powers of evil. Today we have heard the Gospel of the Transfiguration. We see him on a mountain with Moses and Elijah and three disciples, friends not enemies, and he’s transfigured. It’s a great contrast. And yet it is the same Jesus. He’s someone who both shares our weakness and opens up a new horizon for us. He’s both the one in solidarity with us in our struggle with evil and vulnerability – in solidarity all the way to death on the cross, burial, descent among the dead – and he’s the one who transforms us, who will, as Paul says, ‘transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body.’ He’s the crucified and risen one, the Easter Jesus.
What an awesome Saviour we have! It’s as if our life is bracketed, held, contained, encompassed within the two great poles of his suffering and glory, his humanity and divinity.
This is why the Father says, ‘This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.’ Let him make sense of, give meaning to your life!
This year we read the Gospel according to Luke. It’s a Gospel famous for its emphasis on prayer. Jesus takes his disciples up the mountain ‘to pray’, and it’s ‘as he prayed’ that he begins to shine with divine light. This mountain scene is prayer on screen as it were, prayer made visible: Jesus’ prayer and ours. If last Sunday we were reminded of fasting, this Sunday it’s of prayer.
Here are the key-figures of the Old and New Testaments, Moses and Elijah, symbolising the Law and the Prophets, three Apostles, symbolising the Church. So, prayer is never isolated. It’s in communion with the People of God, with the story of Scripture, the unfolding of God’s plan.
Prayer transfigures the ‘face’ – our outlook – and ‘clothing’, our behaviour in the world. The beauty of Christ keeps Peter and his friends from sleep: prayer keeps us spiritually vigilant, alert.
Prayer is Trinitarian. The overshadowing cloud the disciples go into is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and from it the voice of the Father proclaims the Son. And at the end ‘Jesus was found alone.’ ‘Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart. All else be naught to me save that Thou art.’ Prayer leads us to see Jesus only, in other words Jesus in everyone and everything.
One last thing.
Peter is so enthralled he wants to stay on the mountain, to freeze the moment, as it were. But it’s not like that. Just before, Jesus has disclosed that his destiny will include rejection, suffering and death. And Moses and Elijah were speaking with him about the passing (exodus) he was to accomplish in Jerusalem – Easter. Peter, John and James have to come down the mountain, resume the journey, go back to the crowds, back into bewilderment, down into danger. The sign of authentic prayer is that it takes us into the passing (exodus) of Jesus. It takes us into life with him. It takes us out of ourselves. It re-centres us on Christ and others. It’s an exodus from self-centredness to the gift of self after the pattern of Christ’s passion, away from our own will into God’s, in communion with Peter and the whole Church and for the sake of the world.
‘This is my Son, the chosen One. Listen to him!’, says God the Father. In the Upper Room, and every time the Eucharist is celebrated we hear another ‘This is…’ ‘This is my Body which will be given up for you…This is the chalice of my blood which will be poured out for you and for many.’ There is a connection. Jesus came down the mountain to make this gift of himself. And he said, ‘Do this in memory of me.’ This does not refer only to the celebration of the Eucharist by the ordained. It’s an invitation to every disciple to turn his or her prayer into a life-giving gift of self.