Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Cross awaits us everywhere

Second Sunday of Lent Year B

Today, the Church wishes to take us on another journey with Christ but provides us with a radical change of scenery. From last week’s dreary oppressively harsh conditions of the desert of Temptation to this week’s stunningly beautiful mountain of the Transfiguration. I don’t think any one of us can read this unusual account without his mind being flooded with questions. What is this strange glory that shown on the face and the garments of Christ on the mountain top? And why did Moses and Elijah from the Old Testament appear with him on the mountain? And why did this voice come suddenly from heaven in the brightness of a cloud? And why was it that Peter and James and John alone of the disciples were chosen to view this event and why were they there?

Our first question is: What is this glory that appeared on the face of Christ on the mountain top? All three of the evangelists Saints Matthew, Mark, and Luke — record this account, each with minor differences. But all of them agree that Jesus selected these three disciples and led them apart unto a high mountain. Why were they there? St Mark in his signature abbreviated style provides no clue but St Luke tells us that the Lord had gone up the mountain to pray. And as the disciples were watching him, “there in their presence he was transfigured: his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleachers could make them.” St Mark’s mention of earthly bleachers emphasises the unusual nature of this manifestation, a shining forth of supernatural light that could not be caused by any natural phenomena. They were witnessing the uncreated glory of His deity shining through His humanity.

But in the gospel of St Mark, the Transfiguration is certainly meant to point also to the Parousia, Christ’s return in glory at the end of time. In Chapter 9:1, just before the Transfiguration, St Mark has our Lord make this prediction, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.” St Mark puts the account of the prediction and the Transfiguration right together and he shows us that the Transfiguration is a fulfillment of what Jesus said, what he meant when he said, there are some standing here who will not taste of death before they see the kingdom of God come with power. And that’s our first clue as to the meaning of this strange event. For it obviously then is a picture of the coming kingdom. A little foretaste granted to these three disciples by which they leaped over the intervening centuries and were, as it were, present at the coming of Christ in his second return to earth. The transfiguration looks forward to the hour of His return.

Here’s our next question: Of all the significant figures in the Hebrew Scriptures, why was it Moses and Elijah in particular that showed up here with Jesus? Why not Abraham? Or David? Or some of the other worthies of the Old Testament. Well, Moses was believed to have single handedly written the Law; Elijah represented all the Prophets. So, when God’s voice from heaven said about Jesus “Listen to Him!” that indicated that the Law and the Prophets must now give way to Jesus who will replace the old way with the new way. He is the completion of the Law and the fulfillment of the prophecies in the Old Testament. The Law and the Prophets are swallowed up in him. That all they have to say to mankind, is included, and added to, in the expression in the life of the Lord Jesus, in the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth.

Now, one last question. Why is that Peter and James and John are the disciples chosen to see this and to learn this lesson? Why them? And the answer very briefly is this. These are the only three men among the disciples who before this had openly and vocally avoided the principle of the Cross. Our Lord had foretold many times that He would have to suffer and die but His disciples never wanted to hear about it.  Peter so belligerently denied that He undergo such suffering that Jesus had to rebuke him on the spot, identifying his mentality with Satan. And therefore Peter was included in this group because he’d rejected the Cross. How about James and John? In Chapter 10, we see how they shamelessly tried to wrangle out of our Lord, seats of honour on His right and His left. They were certainly not thinking about the cross but perhaps, thought of the Lord ascending His throne of glory. Again, our Lord had to introduce a corrective. The seats of honour are for the Father to assign but every disciple is called to drink from the cup of the Passion, every disciple must be prepared to take up his or her cross and follow the Lord on the road that leads to Calvary.

Therefore, these three men all shared something in common. They all had a skewed idea of glory, an idea which had no place for the cross. In fact, all three had turned their backs to the Cross. And as such, they were rejecting the very thing that would have ensured them eternal glory. All three would have longed for redemption but failed to see that redemption taking place through the cross. The full realisation of the redemption of the bodies will be in the resurrection of the body, not merely in a transfiguration. And there can be no resurrection without the cross. That was why the Lord brought these three up the mountain. Through the experience of the transfiguration, Peter, James and John were given a glimpse of heaven in order to strengthen them for the terrible struggles and suffering that was yet to come. Peter, James, and John needed the glory of Tabor before enduring the horror of Golgotha. The Transfiguration of Christ is preparation for the Cross. His Disciples are in need of this strengthening, in order to face the Cross of their Teacher, as well as their own crosses.

There’s a mistaken idea about Christianity today that because Jesus went to the Cross, we’ll never have to. Nothing could be further from the truth. Each of us has a cross to carry. As Thomas a' Kempis reminds us, “The cross, therefore, is always ready; it awaits you everywhere. No matter where you may go, you cannot escape it, for wherever you go you take yourself with you and shall always find yourself.”  The great spiritual master then adds this wise piece of advice, “If you carry the cross willingly, it will carry and lead you to the desired goal where indeed there shall be no more suffering, but here there shall be. If you carry it unwillingly, you create a burden for yourself and increase the load, though still you have to bear it. If you cast away one cross, you will find another and perhaps a heavier one” (The Imitation of Christ, Book II, chapter 12).

How do we know this to be true? Well, our Lord has shown us in the example of His own life, His death and His resurrection. He went to the Cross in order that we might go with him there. And on through that Cross to the Resurrection beyond. The transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor tells us that the glory of the resurrection will only take place through the sufferings of Good Friday. The transfiguration teaches us that the experience of the cross is necessary in order for Easter to take place. You can’t have the glory of a Resurrection morn without the darkness of a crucifixion. And so as we accept the death of our own plans, our own agendas, our own need to be in control, then beyond lies the power and the glory of what we can only glimpse as a shadow in the transfiguration — a restored humanity which we’ll share with him in glory when He returns in all His splendour, power and glory.

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