SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT (2019)
Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
Psalm 27:1, 7-9, 13-14
An annoyingly frequent commercial on television has characters standing in a Choice Hotel lobby with a golden glow all around them, suggesting that booking the right hotel will cause people to desire a similar booking that will cause them to glow, just like the people in the commercial. The commercial ends with people suggesting that such an approach would be ridiculous, stating rhetorically “Who glows? – No one glows.” I would beg to differ with the commercial’s assessment, for from time to time, like so many people, I have definitely witnessed people glowing.
My strongest example of people glowing is not uncommon, for the expression “the bride was glowing” has no doubt been used by many. I remember in particular my oldest niece’s wedding some seventeen years ago, when from the moment she walked down the aisle and through the numerous reception-floor dances, she was, like Jesus in today’s gospel, simply radiant. Indeed, dozens of brides whose marriages I have been privileged to bless have been “radiant” at their weddings, a condition often caused by exuberant and overflowing joy, and an overwhelming happiness which causes one to acknowledge how singularly blessed one truly is.
The gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent gives us an example of Jesus “glowing,” like Moses in the First Testament (Ex. 34:29), stating that while Jesus “was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzlingly white.” In our gospel passage Jesus takes his closest associates “up the mountain to pray,” something he does often in this gospel with it’s particular focus on prayer. The placement of the transfiguration story was no doubt carefully planned by Luke, appearing as it does about halfway through his gospel. We might also surmise that Jesus planned this moment to energize His disciples whose heads might have been spinning in confusion. The transfiguration is after the commissioning of the disciples, ominous news about Herod’s beheading of John, the feeding of five thousand people, Peter’s confession of faith, the first prediction of Jesus’ passion, and some confusing conditions of discipleship with Jesus telling them “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” It would be perfectly understandable to think that those upon whom Jesus leaned so heavily would need some positive reinforcement, and that is just what they received in the privilege of witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration. Should there have been any confusion or doubts about who this Jesus of Nazareth truly was, those doubts are dispelled by the voice “from the cloud” which states, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
We have barely begun our Lenten journey, but the Church has seen fit to place a version of this transfiguration story on this Second Sunday of Lent in all three years of our lectionary’s cycle. With wisdom, the Church recognizes our perpetual need for encouragement, and the transfiguration story is meant to inspire hope that just as Jesus was transfigured into glory by following God’s will, so too will all those who follow in the footsteps of Jesus be transfigured. I would like to think that Jesus was not the only one “glowing” on that mountain, for Peter, James, and John were surely so filled with joy at what they had heard and seen, that they also were “radiant,” transfigured, and energized to continue following Jesus as He moved closer to Jerusalem.
We might be inclined to be envious of Jesus’ disciples, wishing that we too had the privilege of being on that mountain when Jesus was transfigured. Yet we already enjoy more privilege than the disciples could possibly have imagined, for we are able to witness the transfiguration of Jesus each and every time we celebrate the Eucharist, when the simple elements of bread and wine are transformed into the very Body and Blood of Jesus. While it may not be on a mountain, and there may be no frightening cloud, God speaks to us through the Scriptures, and transforms bread and wine, confirming the presence of His Son that He sent into the world to secure our salvation. That should be an encouragement for us who have pledged to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. That should fill us with joy and overwhelming gratitude that we are so blessed, and it should cause us to glow and be as radiant as Jesus on the Mountain of the Transfiguration.
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