Second Sunday of Lent 2019
Last Sunday we read the gospel account of the temptations of the Lord in the wilderness – and now on the Second Sunday of Lent, in contrast, the account of the Transfiguration. This event is described in almost identical terms in the three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke.
Last week, the reality of the human nature of the Christ – like us he could be tempted, although he did not sin – but today, something of the divine nature of Christ, that he is the Son of God – shown to the three apostles, Peter. James and John in a way that they could understand. It would seem that at the time, they hardly understood what was happening – the gospel says that they kept silence and at the time told no what they had seen – yet it was something that was there, to help carry them through the events of the passion and death of the Lord and even the first hesitant days after resurrection, when there were doubts as to what had happened – yet it was there as a deeply engrained memory as their faith became stronger – Peter in his First epistles speaks of “that day when we were with him on the Holy Mountain”.
It is worth noting that in the temptations, the Lord is on his own. He does not go out into the desert with others. It is an individual, personal test that he experiences. But the transfiguration is different – he takes three of his apostles with him and almost to reassure them, Moses and Elijah appear speaking to him. Their faith may be obscure and uncertain, but he wants to give them confidence, they are not alone, it is something that they share with others, and not just their contemporaries, something which is there across the ages, linked with the times of the patriarchs and prophets. It is only a glimpse, lasting for a moment and the apostles hardly know what was happening – Peter leads with his comment – let us make three tents – but the gospel adds – he did not what he was saying – the cloud covered them and when it lifted once again, in the clear light of day and the vision had come to an end.
So how do we relate to all this during Lent –
First, going back to the temptation on the First Sunday, a reminder of our human frailty and it is possible for us to be tempted. This is part of the normal human experience. But following from the teaching of the Lord, this does not necessarily mean that we will sin. This may not be easy, but it is a vivid reminder, at the beginning of Lent, of possible outcomes.
But then the transfiguration – something very different – is it just a gospel story, almost a parable – or is there the suggestion that it might just be possible – if only for a brief moment to know the presence of God – to touch the divine. Our Christian practise is based on our belief – in the existence of God and the presence of the Son of God in our world in the person of Christ Jesus – curiously, I saw it suggested recently that atheism is a belief – not an absolute scientific proof – but rather a belief that God does not exist – There is a 14th century English Book – the Cloud of unknowing which suggests that faith means surrendering our mind to the presence of God. As with the transfiguration – after a moment, the cloud comes down and then we moved forward – retaining a faith which comes from what for a moment we have seen – yet how does this happen – perhaps not totally consciously at the time – I realise that this sounds imaginative – but looking back, it is just possible that we have some special memories – perhaps the baptism of a child – a special event, a visit to a special place – I always think of the final words of the Latin Mass – you might know them – Ite Missa est – it is virtually impossible to translate them in their original form – it simply means – the Mass is – it is more than just turning the pages of a book, listening to a recording – something has happened and we have been there – the Mass has been celebrated – Christ has become present to us under the appearances of the bread and wine – maybe at the time our faith is not particularly profound – yet it has happened and it has registered in our consciousness – like Peter we look back an d try to remember it- that day when we were with him on the holy mountain.