Sunday, 28 February 2010
2nd Sunday of Lent, Year C, Shaftesbury and Blandford
Lk 9:28-36; Gen 15:5-18; Phil 3:17-4:1
I want to say a word today about faith and hope can help us when we are struggling, as seen in Transfiguration.
In order for our religion to enable us to keep going when we are struggling there are at least two very particular things we need: we need the faith to believe that God still has a plan for us even in the midst of our difficulties, and we need the hope to set our will towards a goal that it is possible to achieve. The Transfiguration is about giving us both of these things.
The gospel record of the Transfiguration is of an event that happened at the very particular stage in Jesus’s mission: for three years He had travelled, preaching, teaching, healing the sick, working miracles. And He had attracted many followers, but, He had also made many enemies, and He knew that things were heading for a climax. The Gospels tell us that “He set His face for Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51), He set His face towards the death that He must accomplish and humanity’s salvation. He knew the distress that would come to His disciples when He would be captured and crucified, and so He wanted to strengthen them for this trial. He had just predicted to His disciples that He would suffer and die (Lk 9:22), He had warned them that if they would follow Him they must daily take up their cross (Lk 9: 23), and He Transfigured Himself in glory for them just before the Gospel says that “He set His face for Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51). This is what the Transfiguration was and is about.
There is a particular gift of faith that we need when we are in difficulty: we need is to believe that God still has a plan even when, in the midst of our difficulties, it seems that He does not. In the Transfiguration Jesus was manifested talking to Moses and Elijah “speaking of His passion which He was to accomplish in Jerusalem” (Lk 9:31). This public “speaking” of it was clearly for a purpose: to show that the apparent disaster of His passion was part of His plan. Jesus showed them that He had a plan so that they would have an opportunity to hold onto their faith when that suffering came.
But for us, this showing that He had a plan has an additional purpose: to enable us to see the clearest possible example of how God can be working even in the midst of suffering. This means that for us we should be able to believe that God has a plan for us even when we are suffering. And this is precisely what we need to still believe, this is exactly the specific gift of faith that we need when we are suffering. We need to see this example, in the life of God’s own Son, of the teaching that we read in Romans 8:28: “All things for the good for those who love the Lord”.
But in addition to faith we need hope: we need to have our eyes set on a better future; this is also what the Transfiguration gives us. In Christ Himself the Transfiguration showed Him in glory, the glory that will belong to His disciples if they are faithful to Him. This is the hope that should keep us going. We need to not only believe that God has a plan for us but to SEE in faith the vision of what this goal is that we should be striving to; and if we see it we can then “set [our] face” towards the goal we must pursue. Jesus “set His face for Jerusalem”, for the Cross as the means to His triumph and glory, which is also our triumph. We each have different crosses that we must “set [our] face” towards. Maybe the cross of our Lenten penance, maybe the cross of bearing the sufferings in our lives with patience, maybe the cross of living the life of Christian love when it’s hard to keep loving and giving.
Whatever our particular cross, the goal of heaven should spur us on, and the sight of His glorious Transfigured body on that mountain should encourage us and give us hope to set ourselves on. As we just heard the promise in Phil 3:20, “For us, our homeland is in heaven, and from heaven comes the saviour we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ, and He will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of His glorious body. He will do that by the same power with which He can subdue the whole universe”; the same power He manifested on the mountain; the same power He showed forth at His resurrection.
Our faith teaches us that there will be a GREATER glory for us in heaven as a consequence of our sharing in this cross on earth, as a consequence of bearing it patiently and charitably, as a consequence of offering it up as a prayer for others, as a consequence of continuing to struggle to be loving and kind to others even when it is hard, as a consequence of enduring with our Lenten resolutions.
This is the faith and hope we need in our difficulty; the faith and hope manifested in His Transfiguration. If we know this as the GRAND ultimate level, after death, it can help us believe that it also holds in the short term: God has a plan, He is working it out, and there is a better future than the present, IF we work with Him. Glory lay for Him beyond the cross, and it lies beyond for us too.