From the Desert of Sin to the Mountaintop of Glory

Second Sunday of Lent -A

This second stop of our Lenten journey is a little more pleasant than our first.  The desert of a week ago is an uncomfortable place to be.  Though we were with our Jesus, we were also with the devil– the devil and all his temptations.  Turn this bread into stone. . . Prostrate yourself in homage to me and you will have all the kingdoms of the world. . . Throw yourself down and let the angels catch you and guide you to safety.”  It would seem that the environment of the desert of temptation is not a place where we want to linger.

Today’s resting place is much better.  Jesus took Peter, James and John his brother and led them up a high mountain. . . He was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.  Lord, said Peter, it is good that we are here.”

The mountain top has always been a glorious place to be, a place of intimacy with our God.  Indeed, God makes himself known to Moses on the mountain top.  “Moses, Moses, I am the God of your father Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.  I am who AM.”  It is on a mountain top where Moses receives the Ten Commandments, a divine expectation of how children of God are to live.

And of course, the Sermon on the Mount is where Jesus elaborates on the Ten Commandments and offers additional commandments of love as the fundamental mission of a disciple.  The mountain top is where the earth stretches toward the heavens and is a place where communication with God is the most intense.

So too, on a mount is where the Transfiguration takes place. The importance of the Transfiguration is not so much about God’s ultimate power and the bestowal of glory, as much as it is, a visual prophecy of what will come to those who love him. The glory of Jesus on the mountaintop was only a prefiguration of what was to come, as evidenced by his final words to his disciples, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”  

Of course, the disciples had no idea what Jesus was talking about at the time, but would later come to understand after Jesus rose from the dead. The disciples like ourselves, have a hard time accepting the prerequisite of glory—suffering and death. More than ever, the modern mind is losing sight of the Paschal Mystery, even though there are signs of it all around us, such as the changing of the seasons and day turning into night, then back again into day.  A Christian can’t lose sight, for by the Paschal Mystery we have the potential of salvation. 

The Transfiguration is the story of hope, a hope of salvation. When Jesus descended the mountain with his disciples, he was no longer seen in the brilliance of his glory. He resumed the body he had before he was Transfigured because sin and death had not yet been destroyed. Sin still had its hold on suffering and death working almost like a firewall between the glory of God and his creatures. Through Jesus’ obedience to the Father, and after his suffering and death, the glory of God was manifested, surpassing all imagination.  The hope Christians cling to is the fulfillment of the promise of God through his Son. The hope is all who suffer and die with Christ will assume a glory foretold by the Transfiguration.

Along with hope, the Transfiguration also makes sense of every person’s experience with suffering and death. As a result of sin, every person suffers in one way or another throughout his life ultimately leading to his death. If there is no hope, or a belief in God’s promise of life, an individual turns to the world for solace, or some sort of self-salvation. Neither can be accomplished, because the Transfiguration reserved for Jesus can only be accessed by disciples who are part of His Body. Just as the glory of God is manifested through Jesus, so too, is the glory of God manifested in individuals who are part of his body. The body will follow where the head goes.

However, before the final glorification on Easter Sunday, Jesus first underwent his suffering and death for our sake.  As members of his body, his followers will also suffer the same with the promise of our glory to come. By this fact alone, suffering and death has been transfigured from nonsensical to a condition of eternal life.   

The season of Lent is important for Christians because by our acts of self-denial, prayer and almsgiving we remind ourselves of the importance of the promise of glory ahead instead of the transient pleasures of our earthly existence.  

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