Lent 2, 28 Feb 2021
Our readings today point to both sacrifice and Christian Hope and the Glory that Christ reveals.
We start off with the wonderful story of Abraham, the father of the Chosen People, and how in obedience to God he is prepared to offer his son Isaac as a human sacrifice and how the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven to stay the execution by provided a ram in the thicket to be a burnt offering. In return for Abraham`s obedience the angel of the Lord speaks a second time - this time promising that God will greatly bless Abraham making his descendants as many as the stars of heaven or the grains of sand on the seashore! Note too that the angel refers to Isaac as Abraham`s only son. In our accepting of this joyful situation we are apt to forget that Abraham had sired another son, Ishmael, who was born to Hagar the servant of his wife Sarai who had been barren. So jealous and bitter was Sarai that Abraham had done this that having seen Isaac, the son of her old age, playing with the elder half-brother Ishmael she demanded that Abraham should cast out Hagar and her son into the wilderness. Of course Abraham was upset but seeking God`s will he nevertheless sent Hagar and Ishmael out. However, God assured Abraham that Hagar and the child would be safe and that he would make a great nation of Ishmael too. Indeed Ishmael is greatly venerated by the Muslims. The willingness of Abraham to sacrifice Isaac is, of course, a type of Our Blessed Lord`s own self-offering to the Father for our redemption.
I get covered in goose-pimples whenever I read the story of Our Lord`s Transfiguration, which we will concentrate more fully on when we keep the Feast Proper on 6th August. I don`t think that Holy Mother Church gives enough significance to this feast which so wonderful proclaims Our Lord as the bridge between Heaven and Earth for uniquely and for eternity he has, as t were, a foot in both camps because of his nature as truly human and truly divine in perfect harmony.
Like some of you I have had the privilege of standing on the top of Mount Tabor where the Transfiguration took place – it is a wonderful spot with, of course, a Franciscan Church up there organised by those friars who are given the title of Custodians of the Holy Land and it is a place of rugged natural beauty with spectacular views….. But let us consider what happened there. Jesus had taken the three apostles who were closest to him, Peter who became the leader of the Church and the Sons of Zebedee, a pair of hotheads, John who of the twelve was closest of all to Jesus and James who was to be the first to suffer martyrdom. I guess that they thought that they were going up there for a kind of retreat, to the remote and quiet place to be still in prayer, for we know that Our Lord, mostly alone but sometimes with others, was known for withdrawing from the crowds for some peace and quiet and to discern his Father`s will. This time it was different, only the closest three were with him as he was revealed, for a very short time, in all his glory as he was transfigured before them. We have a picture of three trinities:
1. Peter, James and John his closest disciples – a gathering of three companions
2. Jesus in the brightness of his glory appearing with Moses and Elijah showing how he alone completed the prophecies of old
3. The Holy Trinity: Jesus being revealed in all his glory by the power of the Holy Spirit and affirmed by the voice of God the Father from the cloud affirming and virtually repeating the words that were spoken at the Lord`s Baptism: “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.”
Hardly any wonder that Peter, who always seems to have to have had something to say, goes into panic mode asking to build three dwellings for Jesus, Moses and Elijah! Before any answer can be made the moment is gone and Jesus, as it were his ordinary self, is alone with them.
The Lord`s baptism had marked the commissioning of his three-year mission and ministry in Galilee and this Transfiguration marked the beginning of the completion of his earthly ministry for it was from this moment that Jesus began the final journey up to Jerusalem for his triumphal entry into the Holy city on the back of donkey, his last teachings in the Temple, the Last Supper which is the eternal meal for all Christians for it is also his institution of the Mass, his betrayal that same evening and his trial and agonizing death on the Cross and his Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven.
Such is the humility of the Son of God that coming down the mountain from Tabor`s summit Jesus tells the three to say nothing of what they had witnessed until after he had risen from the dead. Even so, it seems they did not fully understand for the same three, on the night that Jesus was betrayed, in spite of being asked to pray with and for him in the Garden of Gethsemane fell asleep not long before he was betrayed by another of the Twelve. How frail and fickle we human beings are!
As we contemplate the wonder of the Lord`s transfiguration, which each of us is called to share at the end of time, we are thrown back on those wonderful words that we heard from chapter 8 and verses 31 – 34 of St. Paul`s letter to the Romans: `With God on our side who can be against us ?` and a couple of sentences later, `…could anyone condemn ? Could Christ Jesus ? No! he not only died for us – he rose from the dead, and there at God` right hand he stands and pleads for us.`