The second Sunday of Lent always features the transfiguration. This is done in the first place because we are following the Lord on his final journey to Jerusalem and this journey up Mt Tabor was one of the stops Jesus himself made with Peter, James and John. It is commonly held that Jesus did this to prepare his apostles for the difficult days ahead. There’s a line from an old spiritual which says, Sometimes I up, sometimes I’m down, sometimes I’m almost on the ground…..but see what the end shall be. And this is what the Lord is doing here: he is showing us what the end shall be. There is a cross to get through, but there is glory on the other side.
There also seems a purpose in placing this account here in that it helps describe the pattern of the Christian life which is the paschal mystery. For we are always dying and rising with Christ in repeated cycles as we journey to an eternal Easter (cf 2 Cor4:10). This Gospel shows forth the pattern of the cross, in the climb, and rising, in the glory of the mountaintop. Then it is back down the mountain again, only to climb another mountain, (Golgotha) and through it find another glory (Easter Sunday). Here is the pattern of the Christian life: the paschal mystery. Let’s look a little closer at the Gospel in three stages.
I. The Purpose of Trials. The text says – Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray.. Now we often pass over this fact, that they had to climb that mountain. And the climb was no easy task. Any one who has been to the sight of Tabor knows what high mountain it is. The climb was almost 2000 feet, high and steep. It may have taken the better part of a day and probably had its dangers. Once at the top it is like looking from an airplane window out on the Jezreel Valley (a.k.a. Megiddo or Armageddon).
So here is a symbol of the cross and of struggle. A climb was up the rough side of the mountain: exhausting, difficult, testing their strength.
I have it on the best of authority that as they climbed they were singing gospel songs: I’m comin’ up on the rough side of the mountain, and I’m doin’ my best to carry on! Another songs says, My soul looks back and wonders how I got over! Yet another says, We are climbing Jacob’s ladder, every round goes higher, higher.
Now, this climb reminds us of our life. For often we have had to climb, to endure and have our strength tested. Perhaps it was the climb of getting a college degree. Perhaps it was the climb of raising children, or building a career. What do you have that you really value that did not come at the price of a climb….of effort and struggle?
And most of us know that, though the climb is difficult, there is glory at the top is we but endure and push through. Life’s difficulties are often the prelude to success and greater strength.
Though we might wish that life had no struggles, it would seem that the Lord intends the climb for us. For, the cross alone leads to true glory. Where would we be without some of the crosses in our life? Let’s ponder some of the Purposes of problems:
- God uses problems to DIRECT us. Sometimes God must light a fire under you to get you moving. Problems often point us in a new directions and motivate us to change. Is God trying to get your attention? “Sometimes it takes a painful situation to make us change our ways,” Proverbs 20:30 says: Blows and wounds cleanse away evil, and beatings purge the inner most being. Another old gospel song speaks of the need of suffering to keep us focused on God: Now the way may not be too easy. But you never said it would be. Cause when our way gets a little too easy, you know we tend to stray from thee. Sad but true, God sometimes needs to use problems to direct our steps to him.
- God uses problems to INSPECT us. People are like tea bags.. if you want to know what’s inside them, just drop them into hot water! Has God ever tested your faith with a
problem? What do problems reveal about you? Our problems have a way of helping to see what we’re really made of. I have discovered many strengths I never knew I had through trials and testings. There is a test in every testimony and trials have a way of purifying and strengthening our faith as well as inspecting our faith to see whether it is really genuine. 1 Peter 1:6 says, In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These trials are only to test your faith, to see whether or not it is strong and pure.
- God uses problems to CORRECT us. Some lessons we learn only through pain and failure. It’s likely that as a child your parents told you not to touch a hot stove. But you probably learned by being burned. Sometimes we only learn the value of something health, money, a relationship by losing it. Scripture says in Psalm 119:71-72 It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees and also in Psalm 119:67 it says Before I was afflicted, I strayed. But now I keep you word.
- God uses problems to PROTECT us. A problem can be a blessing in disguise if it prevents you from being harmed by something more serious. A man was fired for refusing to do something unethical that his boss had asked him to do. His unemployment was a problem-but it saved him from being convicted and sent to prison a year later when management’s actions were eventually discovered. Scripture says in Genesis 50:20 as Joseph speaks to his brothers You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
- God uses problems to PERFECT us. Problems, when responded to correctly, are character builders. God is far more interested in your character than your comfort. Romans 5:3 says We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. And 1 Peter 1:7 says You are being tested as fire tests gold and purifies it and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold; so if your faith remains strong after being tried in the fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day of his return.
So here it is, the cross symbolized by the climb. But after the cross comes the glory. Let’s look at stage two:
II. The Productiveness of Trials. The text says, While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
All the climbing has paid off. Now comes the fruit of all that hard work! The Lord gives them a glimpse of glory! They get to see the glory that Jesus has always had with the Father. He is dazzlingly bright. A similar vision from the book of revelation gives us more detail:
I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, ….. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. (Rev 1:12-17)
Yes, all the climbing has paid off. Now comes the glory, the life, the reward or endurance and struggle. Are you enjoying any the fruits of your crosses now? If we think about it, our crosses, if they were carried in faith have made us more confident, stronger. Some of us have discovered gifts, abilities and endurance we never knew we had. Our crosses have brought us life!
- The other night I went over to the Church and played the pipe organ. It was most enjoyable and the fruit of years of hard work.
- And not only have my own crosses brought me life, but the crosses of others have also blessed me and brought me life. I live and work in buildings that others saved and scrimped and labored to build. I have a faith that martyrs died to hand on to me, that missionaries journeyed long distances to proclaim. See the trials do produce. Enjoy it!
- St. Paul says, that this momentary affliction is producing for us a weight of glory beyond all compare (2 Cor 4:14). He also says For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Rom 8:18).
- An old gospel song says, By and by, when the morning comes, and all the saints of God are gathered home, we’ll tell the story, of how we’ve overcome. And we’ll understand it better, by and by.
So then, here is the glory that comes after the climb. Here is the life that comes from the cross. Here is the paschal mystery: Always carrying about in our selves the dying of Christ so also that the life of Christ may be manifest in us (2 Cor 4:10).
III. The Pattern of Trials – The text says, After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen..
Notice that, although Peter wanted to stay, Jesus makes it clear that they must go down the mountain for now and walk a very dark valley, to another hill, Golgotha. For now, the pattern must repeat. The cross has led to glory, but more crosses are needed before final glory. An old spiritual says, We are climbing Jacob’s ladder….every round goes higher, higher, soldiers of the cross!
This is our life. Always carrying within our self the dying of Christ so also that [the rising of Christ], the life of Christ may be manifest in us (cf 2 Cor 4:10).
There are difficult days ahead for Jesus and the apostles. But the crosses lead to a final and lasting glory. This is our life too. The paschal mystery, the pattern and rhythm of our life.
This Homily was recorded and is available in mp3 here: http://frpope.com/audio/2%20Lent%20A%202011.mp3
Here is an excerpt from the Song We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder. The Text says that every round goes higher, higher! Almost as if imagining a spiral staircase even as the rounds get pitched higher musically. For this is the pattern of our life that we die with Christ so as to live with him. And each time we come back around to the cross, or back around to glory, we are one round higher and one level closer to final glory.