Believe it or not: this Sunday is not just Super Bowl Sunday; it is the last Sunday after Epiphany and it is intended not to prepare us for an exciting beer and snack filled football game but to prepare us for Lent. But actually it does more than that. It puts us squarely into the heart of Lent. The 1979 BCP moved this Gospel to the Last after Epiphany, but traditionally the Gospel of the Transfiguration was read on the Second Sunday of Lent, as it still is in Roman Lectionary. You might well stick this Sunday’s bulletin in your pocket and carry it with all through Lent: read it again and again, take it into your heart and mind and allow it to form you and inform you through the forty days.
What you might discover is that Lent is not, in the first place, concerned with what you have decided to take on and give up; rather it is about what Jesus took on and what he gave up.
The center of attention in the Gospel is Jesus and his Passion: “eight days after these sayings.” That is, eight days after Peter was congratulated for getting it right about Jesus and then as quickly reproached for getting it completely wrong: “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Peter will have none of this. But it is the elephant in the room. In St. Luke’s Gospel Jesus, wherever he is, whatever he is doing, he is on the way to Jerusalem. So are the Apostles and so must we be as well. I will see you on Fridays for Stations.
Moses and Elijah appear on the Mountain and speak of ‘his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem’. The Greek word for ‘departure’ is exodus, which connects the death of Jesus with the liberation of the Jews from Egypt. As the old Exodus set God’s people free, so the Exodus of Jesus sets us free, not just from Pharaoh and all his host, but from our more threatening enemies, death and sin.
We cannot free ourselves but ‘we can glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, which saved us and made us free’ by warring against the arrogance of the body, fasting from strife, by ‘taking up our own crosses and following him’ to Jerusalem.
The difficulty is that we like Peter and James and John have a highly developed ability to fall asleep when we should be awake. Later they will fall asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane and we may well discover this Lent that we too have fallen asleep, when we should be awake. The horror of this causes Peter to try to try and compensate: ‘Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah,” But it is the Father who sets Peter and you and me straight: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” It is not about Peter, you and me; it is about Jesus. The priest will say to us On Ash Wednesday “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, (by among other things) reading and meditating on God's holy Word.” It is not just that reading the Bible is a good and pious idea; it is essential, it is more than an invitation, it the command of the Father, “listen to him”.
The necessity in Lent and in season and out is that we listen to the Word of God, allow ourselves to be wounded by that Word, to be lead to self-examination, confession and penance. If I hear fewer confessions this year, it is not because you are not listening to me, but that you are not listening to Jesus.
But the end of Lent, the goal of Lent, the conclusion is exactly what happens at the end the Gospel of the Transfiguration: “And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.” That is what all our Lenten disciplines, fasting, praying, reading the Bible, self-examination confession can come down to and must come to: seeing Jesus alone.
That is why every Friday after Stations we have Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament: that we may go up on the mountain of the altar, that every eye may be on Jesus, that for at least a few minutes we forget ourselves, and see only him. See you then.