All three liturgical cycles for the second sunday of Lent feature the story of Abram and Sarah and it is a focal point in the book of Genesis and in the faith history of the Jewish people as well. It begins with God’s command, "Go forth." All of the accounts have this same characteristic. They all contain a sense of change and conflict along the way to new life. This is the hope that their story stirs up. God's promise to them isn't that things will be easy. What makes the end hopeful is that God promises to “Go Forth” with Abram and Sarah as well.
The Gospel story is also one of change, conflict and hope. The disciples went to an out of the way place with the Lord. It is quiet there and they can see for a great distance. There things can be put into focus for them. There they can get perspective. But they get more than they expected. For on the mountain that day they had a momentary glimpse into how special Jesus is. They also realized that nothing in their lives would ever again be the same as it once was.
The Apostles witness a dazzling display of God's glory at the Transfiguration and are overwhelmed with excitement. But they are soon to experience the passion and death of Jesus. These same three will follow Jesus into the Garden of Gethsemane. They will see Him, fearful, saddened, pleading not to have to suffer and die. They will see Him on the cross, apparently abandoned by his Father and overcome by evil. This will betray all their hopes and dreams, and almost destroy their faith.
The Transfiguration story is not about a moment of spiritual illumination but rather a story where we see Christ's attempt to rehabilitate and re-energize his disciples. Prior to this scene, the disciples were arguing about who would be the greatest in the kingdom. They tried to persuade Jesus NOT to go to Jerusalem, not to suffer and die. They had their own idea of what Jesus was about and what he should be doing.
The whole point of the story was not to go up the mountain and bask in God's glory, but to go back down the mountain and do what Jesus does: heal the sick, give sight to those who are blind, to open the ears of the deaf and to bring the Good News to the poor. The voice from the Cloud says the same thing now as that which was heard at Jesus' baptism: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
But there is now an addenda to the message, directed squarely at the disciples: "Listen to him! Listen to what He is saying, not to what YOU think he saying…" And the first thing that they should listen to is Jesus' words: "Rise and do not be afraid."
On the mountain they didn't understand the meaning behind the Transfiguration. Only when He is raised from the dead will they understand. Only then will they remember the Transfiguration, only then will they remember that like Abraham and Sarah they too are told to “Go Forth” and live the promise given them. Only then will they truly understand why He sent them down from the mountain, back to the physical world, which needed - and still needs to be - transformed and transfigured.
As he did with the first disciples, the One on the mountain directs us to Jesus, to listen and observe what we see and hear - and then to act on it. Rehabilitation is long process. Our belief in God and our journey of faith does not exclude the possibility of suffering and emptiness. It does not mean that we will always be able to find Him present in the ups and downs of our everyday lives. Nor does it mean that we are expected to passively sit back and "accept" all of the obstacles and roadblocks we find along the way as being part of some grand plan that He has for us.
For us, the meaning of the Transfiguration is that, as Karl Rahner says: "in the dark night of hopelessness the light of God shines, and a human heart finds in God the power which turns a dying into victory."
We go apart for a while with other disciples and the same voice is encouraging us, “Listen to him.” Jesus’ words and actions will tell us about God and about ourselves but also about forgiveness, compassion and our responsibility to spread what we have heard from him and to do what he did.
As the Gospel unfolds, the dazzling brilliance of our God begins to show through the humanity of Jesus more and more clearly. Our faith tells us that our lives will gradually be re-energized and remade according to the pattern of the transfigured Christ, who is our Light, our Strength and our Salvation.
We have been told to listen and to “Go forth.” Lent is a good time to reflect upon how well we do both.