Reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent 2013
by Mary Collins, OSB
On Transfiguration Sunday, the Second Sunday of Lent, the church’s liturgy seems to get ahead of itself. The gospel has all the signs of a post-Resurrection appearance of Christ. The scene is suffused in light – in brilliant, dazzling white. Jesus’ appearance is changed; his companions Moses and Elijah, too, appear in glory. The long-awaited Elijah has returned as expected, signaling the end time. No wonder the disciples Peter, James, and John are ready to settle down, presuming that they have arrived, presuming that the long trek of discipleship has been completed. This gospel might well strike us as premature, for our journey toward Easter has hardly begun.
The liturgy, however, is simply following the lead of the evangelists. They are the ones who first narrated this event as pre-passion occurrence, even before the gospels were put in written form. The evangelists took what has all the traits of a post-Resurrection experience of the apostles and positioned it in a pre-Resurrection setting. The purpose, scholars suggest, was to assure those listening to the story of Jesus for the first time that the gospel being proclaimed was really good news with a good outcome.
Similarly, if that was the case for jumping to the end when Jesus was first proclaimed, the liturgical timing of the Transfiguration story, early in Lent, serves a similar purpose. Like our predecessors Peter, James, and John, we disciples of the twenty-first century need courage to face the trek ahead. We have been called to a lifetime of accompanying Jesus through his suffering and death. It will be easier if we have some assurance that the struggle is not the last word. We, too, count on a promise that there will be a blessed outcome.
The promise of Transfiguration continues for every generation. As Peter, James, and John were once suffused in the glory of the Risen Christ, that glory has been slowly and steadily breaking through in ordinary believers like ourselves. Yes, we find that hard to believe. Yet as you read your Give Us This Day this week consider the transfiguration stories of Felix and Antonio, Anne and Margaret, Engelmar and Agnes. Six ordinary believers, good men and women, were each moved beyond their unexceptional lives to a life of holiness. Something happened to set each of them on the road to glory.
A Cuban priest was exiled in New York, and began to serve the immigrants around him. A young widow began running a safe house for fugitive priests during a time of danger. A missionary became committed to justice for the oppressed natives of his new country and was assassinated for his commitment. A young woman who was burdened with life-long depression was bought to new life as she became more and more attuned to God’s presence everywhere. A priest ministered to the bodily and spiritual needs of the men with whom he was confined in the clergy-barracks at Dachau - until he, too, died among his brother priests. A princess abdicated the emptiness of her royal calling to take up the life of a Poor Clare. How did it happen? Each simply, yet not so simply, chose to imitate Christ in the circumstances of the lives they had.
Their stories, like ours, are part of the greater ecclesial proclamation of paschal Transfiguration. To nurture the presence of transforming grace, each Spring, on the Second Sunday of Lent, the Church’s liturgy summons us again to pay attention to God’s appearance in our own lives. In every overshadowing cloud, we are invited to heed the voice assuring us “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”