There are contacts being made in our readings for this Sunday of Lent. These are rather unusual events which take some time to unpack. There are strange yet powerful statements made which have implications for the hearers.
Abram has been called and has lived awhile trusting the God who has invited him. He has left his homeland, but he has a bit of a complaint. Having land and having children are signs of God’s loving blessing. Abram has neither and this is how the drama of our First Reading opens.
The voice of God invites Abram to count the stars and then come to know that his descendents will be even more than all the visible array. Abram both makes a statement of faith and doubt at the same time. God has told him that he will possess a great land having many riches. Abram asks reverently about how he will know. This tension is resolved by the ritual of covenant-making.
The animals are halved and the two parties agreeing to the history of the relationship, the promises and conditions of the pact walk between the slain animals. By doing this gesture of partnership, they are saying to each other, that if the covenant is broken, the offending partner wishes that he be likewise split in half. While Abram is in a deep mystical slumber, God passes between the animals in the form of fire and pledges a great land-deal to Abram and his many offspring.
The Gospel is Luke’s account of a trance-figuration. Peter, James, and John, who will be witnesses to an inglorious struggle on the night of his betrayal and arrest, are present here. They are en-clouded and befuddled by some kind of trance themselves. While Jesus was praying, Moses and Elijah appeared speaking with Jesus about the “exodus” or passing through, which was to happen in Jerusalem. Peter, not knowing exactly what he was saying, proposed their all staying up on the hill. The “exodus” would take place on another hill near Jerusalem.
There is glory present as Jesus seems to be trans-formed and there is the presence of the inglorious “exodus”. There is a voice from heaven announcing a confirmation of Jesus’ identity as well as a direction to listen to him. The apostles, as it was with Abram, are asked to make their acts of faith by trusting the mystery of what they had seen, or think they had seen, and what they think they heard.
The power of this Gospel is that Jesus, as the divinely-initiated covenant, walks between the glorious and inglorious. He stands on this hill in contemplation of the next. He walks between Moses, Elijah, and these three men of the earth. Instead of animals being slain and halved, Jesus will receive his being slain as a covenantal sign. Instead of professing fidelity to a pact and declaring that any unfaithfulness of the covenant would result in being halved, Jesus will repair the original fracture by being halved himself.
Lately I have heard a classification of movies, “feel-good”. I am attracted to these kinds of productions. I had a wonderful Jesuit English professor early in my religious formation who told me that I was a charter member of the Silver-lining and Happy-ending Society. I was a hopeless Romantic. At certain times, I still am. I sense that many people are searching for a “Feel-Good” religion or church. Peter had the idea; build three tents there and let the rest of the world go by. I could get into that at times.
The Transfiguration as presented by Luke is not a “feel-good” experience. The call of God to listen to Jesus the beloved is a call to collapse the tents of dreams, let the cloud of glory lift, allow Jesus to become undazzling, and head back down the hill heading for Jerusalem. We would love taking the Jerusalem bypass and enjoy the silver-lined happy ending. There are good feelings in following Jesus. There are those moments of intimate communion perhaps. The deep good feeling is our walking with him through our own Jerusalem’s and this is our fidelity, our act of being made “righteous”.
God has made a covenant with us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. This covenant comes to us with a history, promises and directions. The history is contained in our Jewish and Christian Scriptures. The promises are made in terms of the life to come. The direction is that we are to listen to God’s beloved Son who tells us all that we too, share his being beloved.
“Remember your mercies, Lord, your tenderness from ages past.” Ps. 25
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