Thursday, March 24, 2011

How to persevere through Lent, Sermon of March 20th

2nd Sunday of Lent, Year A
March 20th, 2011
Matthew 17:1-9

Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them.

Perhaps we might consider why it is that here, on the second Sunday of Lent, the Church gives us the Gospel account of the Transfiguration of our Lord. It may not be immediately apparent to us, but if we consider the meaning of the historical event for the disciples, we will quickly understand how our reflection on the Transfiguration will aid us in our Lenten discipline.

First, what was the significance of the Transfiguration for the Apostles? Notice that the event happened near the end of Christ’s public ministry – it is recorded late in Matthew’s Gospel, in the 17th chapter. Early on, the Lord’s preaching was very successful – wherever he went, many people converted and nearly all accepted him. Of course, the Apostles were very excited in those early days.
But then, there is a change. At a certain point, our Savior begins to look toward Jerusalem, to focus more and more on the suffering and death that awaited him in the Holy City. This transition – from those early, happy years to the last period of rejection – hinges upon the Transfiguration.

Our Savior had just told the disciples that he would suffer and die, that the Cross was coming. But the Apostles could scarcely bare this news. They feared the Cross, they were terrified at the thought of persecution. And so, Christ needed to give them comfort and strength.
For this reason, he took Peter, James and John apart from the others and led them up the mountain. Now, as soon as we hear it is these three, our minds ought to move forward to that other time these three were separated from the rest – on that night in Gethsemane, when our Lord suffered his great agony in the garden. The whole event of the Transfiguration is a preparation for the suffering which is soon to come – Christ seeks to strengthen at least these three, so that they might remain faithful through the Passion.

But, as our Lord is transfigured before them, St. Peter cries out, “Lord, it is good that we are here … Let’s build some tents!” You see, Peter talks too much. J
The Prince of the Apostles speaks with the comprehension of a child – he cannot even begin to comprehend the mystery he beholds, for he is distracted by the fact that it is shiny. Peter considers the Transfiguration beautiful simply because it is bright.
If Peter had been more reflective, he may have noticed that it was Moses and Elijah who appeared on either side of our Savior – the two men who perhaps bore more suffering and hardship than any others in the Old Testament. Moses, who was so often rejected by his own people and who died in the desert. Elijah, who was hated by the political and religious authorities of his day – who alone stood up against the darkness of hell which raged in the time of King Ahaz.

Christ is transfigured before Peter, James and John; he shows them the glory of the Resurrection. The Savior does this in order that they might be encouraged, that they might not lose heart. Christ knows that the Passion will be a great scandal to his disciples, he knows that it will be difficult and that they will be filled with sorrows – but he desires that they should not despair, that they should not lose hope, but instead might remain faithful to him to the end.
But, alas, we know that James fled with the others, he abandoned the Lord. Peter was even worse – the man who had said, “Let us build tents and remain here with you,” when persecutions came not only abandoned the Lord, but denied his Savior saying, “I swear to you, I do not know the man.”
Only John remained faithful. The disciple who was most reflective, and even contemplative. John is quiet, reserved, steeped in prayer. And he alone, from among the Apostles, he alone stood by our Christ at the foot of his Cross. The mystery of the Transfiguration had already penetrated the heart of the Beloved Disciple, strengthening him against all adversity, giving him hope in the midst of terrible suffering.

Christ was transfigured in order that the Apostles might persevere through suffering and so come to the glory of Easter. It is for this reason also that the Church gives us to meditate upon the Transfiguration now. For we yet have a long time till Easter – there is much of Lent through which he have yet to pass.
For some, it may come as a surprise that we are only in the second week of Lent. “The second week?” you say, “Surely, we have made it to the forth of fifth week by now!” No, indeed, we are still only in the second week, and, what is worse, this Sunday is only the first day in the second week! J 
Only through imitating the prayerful nature of John will we be able to find the strength necessary to pass through Lent. We must meet Christ, transfigured and in glory – but it is only in our life of prayer that we can find him thus transfigured. Our daily meditation is the time when Christ is leading us up the mountain, to encourage us, to give us strength, and to show us his glory.

We have quite a ways to go this Lent. But the Church, as a good and loving Mother, does not want us to be discouraged. So, today, she gives us this small foretaste in the Resurrection. She raises our hearts and minds to the contemplation of Easter glory – for the Transfiguration is a participation in the glory which awaits us all in life everlasting.