Behind the journey of Lent lies the Exodus experience of the people of Israel on their difficult but purifying passage from slavery to freedom. In this Sunday of the Transfiguration, the Genesis reading invites us to consider another journey: the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you”. A God hitherto unknown bids him to leave everything he knew to find a new life. So the voice of Lent, a word that originally meant “springtime”, calls us to a renewal of life. This renewal will require commitment and maybe suffering on our part: the poet T. S. Eliot reminds us that “April is the cruellest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land.”
Between two predictions of the Passion, Jesus leads his closest disciples up Mount Tabor: they must understand the inseparable unity of passion, death and resurrection. Four phrases from Matthew’s version of the Transfiguration are particularly suggestive. The first is led them up a high mountain apart. Why apart? Perhaps because all of us need moments of solitude and detachment that enable us to listen and see with greater clarity the presence of the Lord in our midst. The second is a bright cloud overshadowed them. Matthew alone specifies that the cloud was bright. Brightness and shadow come together in this ambiguous phrase. At his conversion, Paul saw a light so bright that he was cast into darkness. There will certainly be moments of darkness in our life and Lenten journeys: such moments test us and may serve to deepen our desire for the true light. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is the light of the world, nevertheless, both light and darkness, bless the Lord.
The third phrase is listen to him! The voice of the Father addresses the disciples, proclaiming the identity of Jesus and issuing this command. The words chime in harmony with the voice of the psalmist in the invitatory psalm 94/5 with which the Divine Office begins every day: O that today you would listen to his voice! This admonition is set in the context of the Exodus and the hard hearts of those who did not listen well. Now we on our Lenten way can learn from their mistakes and intensify our attention to what really matters. Our fourth phrase is the only thing that Jesus says to them before they start their bewildered descent of the mountain: Rise, and have no fear. This is an invitation to wakefulness and to hope. So we too continue our courageous Lenten journey, lit up by the hope of glory and realistically intrepid in the disciplines and trials required of us.
By Fr Edmund Power, osb