Some situations just never get better. And I wonder: God—where are you??
We’re two weeks into Lent and the darkness is starting to settle in. I’m feeling the effects of self-denial and am not enjoying it. But worse is the longing for resolution to a long-standing problem. Lord—this is crushing me! I cry. Where is the end? I am trying so hard to love like you do, and forgive. When is it enough?
The Sunday readings speak into the darkness, shining a strengthening light.
The gospel, like every 2nd Sunday of Lent, is the Transfiguration. This year (C), it’s from Luke. Surprisingly the first reading, which so easily could be about Moses or Elijah (who appear on the mountain with Jesus), is always from the life of Abraham. Why? The Transfiguration launches Jesus on a journey to glory that passes through suffering and the cross. Similarly, God’s promise to Abraham launched him on a journey that led through the sacrifice of his son. We are on a similar journey of faith—through Lent and through life)—to a promise that hangs in the future. To get there, we must take up a cross.
Knowing that doesn’t comfort, though. It makes me dread. So back to the readings:
1st Reading: Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18 (Read it here)
Genesis 15 is where Abraham looks to the stars and believes God’s improbable promise of countless descendants and a land to call their own (improbable because Abraham’s wife is barren and they are wandering nomads). It’s also the occasion when God swears absolutely that he will do it. To get to that point, God has asked Abraham to leave everything behind and follow him blindly, to trust in his good plan regardless of how anything might look.
No wonder the passage is filled with images of light and dark: stars that can’t be counted; a terrifying darkness; a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch. The stars represent the improbable hope. The terrifying darkness might be the state of Abraham’s mind. It’s the darkness that afflicts everyone at some time, that impotent state of not seeing the way to go forward. But it is into that darkness that God appears as a flaming torch to seal his promise. And so the Psalm . . .
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 27:1, 7-9, 13-14 (Read it here)
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear?”
It’s not an accident that we proclaim that verse as our response. “I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living,” reads the last verse, as though referring back to Abraham who “sees” with the eyes of faith, illuminated only by the light God provides. “Wait for the Lord with courage,” the psalm continues; “be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord.”
Abraham waited his whole life and never saw God’s promise fulfilled. Somehow, fixing his sights on God’s promise enabled him to accept that he was an exile on earth and look to a heavenly future (read Hebrews 11:13-19). This possibility of standing firm while waiting on God, regardless of present darkness, is reflected in the 2nd reading:
2nd Reading: Philippians 3:17 – 4:1 (Read it here)
St. Paul speaks not of physical darkness and light but of the spiritual darkness of sin, which leads to death; and the light of following Jesus, which leads to heavenly glory. We can set our eyes on the enemies of Christ, do as they do and share their end; or we can look to Jesus and imitate those who follow him, set our sights on heaven and be transformed to be like him in glory.
Therefore, Paul concludes, “in this way stand firm in the Lord.” The Responsorial Psalm echoes in my mind:
“Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord.”
Gospel: Luke 9:28b-36 (Read it here)
Missing from the excerpt we hear from the gospel at mass is the beginning that gives us the context: “Now about eight days after these sayings,” Luke says, Jesus takes three disciples on a mountain to pray. In this way, he links the Transfiguration directly to the time Jesus told his disciples he would suffer, be killed and then raised. He also said anyone wanting to follow would have to take up his own cross first. Walking with the disciples in my mind, I’m thrown back into darkness. Is this what it means to follow Christ? In this situation that weighs on me: must I continue to offer myself? Where will it end?
I wonder if a similar fear clung to the disciples Jesus took to that mountain. Just like with the story of Abraham, it is into the darkness that God’s light appears: They are overcome by sleep—and the bright glory of the transfigured Christ pulls them out of it. Then they’re overshadowed by a cloud, and frightened—and into that darkness comes a voice: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
He brings light in the darkness
“After these sayings,” Luke begins. After those words about dying and taking up one’s cross. Then “listen to him,” he ends. Listen to the one who will die, but who here is transfigured as a bright light before you. Take note: this is where the Passion leads! To glory. This is where your cross will lead too, if you listen to and follow the Light. You will be transformed to be like him.
We live in a fallen world that is dark, but God is there in the dark. The Lord is here with his light, bringing guidance and comfort and pointing the way to a promised and certain, glorious end.
I recall the Responsorial Psalm, take it into my week as I take up my cross:
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? […] Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord.”
© 2019 Sarah Christmyer
A song comes to mind: “Great are you Lord,” by All Sons and Daughters:
You give life, You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope, You restore
Every heart that is broken
Great are you Lord! . . .
This is part of a series of posts for Lent 2019 (Year C). Read the others here:
- CREATE YOUR OWN DESERT FOR LENT and seek Christ in his Word
- NOT BY BREAD ALONE: How to live by the word of God