2nd Sunday of Lent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Joseph Church, Ponchatoula
The motto for the second week of Lent: “Rise, and do not be afraid!”
Are you tired of Lent yet? Wondering why you chose you favorite bad habit to give up? Are you finding yourself counting the days, just waiting it out, maybe twitching a little now and then? Thinking about marching right into Burger King or making a quick stop at the bakery? Is your tongue just itching to really tell someone off? Or maybe your credit card is keeping you up at night softly sobbing from loneliness. Imagine calling the whole thing off. Right now. Just stop Lent and get off. Stop the fasting, the abstaining; stop the extra prayers and just break those promises of weekly confession, daily Mass, nightly rosary. Just stop it all. Just say NO to Lent. And get off this crazy roller coaster of a liturgical season! I mean, really now…is Jesus coming back anytime soon? Who knows?
Imagine the disciples for a second. There they were with Jesus, their beloved teacher, and they are having trouble understanding all his mysterious talk of suffering and dying and coming back to life again. The disciples! The guys who know him best are struggling with this whole going-into-the-desert-thing. Here we are 2,000 years later, and we’re trying to understand and benefit from the example of his temptations. You had better believe I would conjure up some bread after forty days without food. Not to mention a case or two of beer! Of course, I would call down an army of angels if the Devil appeared and started tempting me. And, yea, ruling the world seems like a heady vocation with lots of perks. But I, like you, must do what Christ did. And in case we’re scared out of our minds at the very idea of what’s ahead for the Church, we have Christ on the mountain with Peter, James, and John. And we have Christ's promise: “…his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as light.” What sort of promise is this? What exactly is the promise of the transfiguration?
The disciples, gawking in fear at the sight of the transfigured Jesus, Moses and Elijah with him, fall flat on their faces in the dirt. Jesus touches them and says, “Rise, and do not be afraid!” When they rise, Jesus remains alone standing before them, shining brilliant white. Moses and Elijah are gone. The joyous light around him dissipates. All he says to the dumb-struck disciples is: “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” That’s it. That’s his explanation of what just happened. Um, what just happened? We received a revelation. And now that we have it, what are we supposed to do with it?
Let’s go back to Paul and his second letter to Timothy. Paul writes to this friend, “[God] saved us and called us to a holy life, NOT according to our works but according to His own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus…” What makes this holy life we are called to possible? Nothing other than the gifts we have received from God, the grace “now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus…” Paul, writing long after the revelation on the mountain, is reminding Timothy that he must “bear [his] share of hardship for the gospel…” How? “…with the strength that comes from God.” Jesus’ transfiguration, his transformation before Peter, James, and John is our Lord’s seal on an ancient promise: endure with my strength, endure with the gifts you have been given, endure with one another, and you too will be transfigured; you too will shine like the sun, white as light.
What do we do ‘til then? Jesus touches his frightened disciples and says to them, “Rise, and do not be afraid!” In this one command, we can hear the echo of all of the promises our Lord made to Abram: “I will make you a great nation…I will make your name great…I will bless those who bless you…All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.” None of these gifts are ours by right or inheritance. It is ours in faith by the promise of the One who blesses His creation with His presence. We cannot lay claim to a single blessing, not one gift from our Lord if, trembling in fear of our future, we are face down in the dirt. Or if we will not look up into the eyes of Christ; or if we refuse in our sinfulness to be transfigured, to be changed into He Whom we adore. So, rise and do not be afraid! Do not fear small sacrifices or large ones; do not fear little fasts or days of abstinence; do not fear that the Body of Christ is sick beyond healing, or that the Word is silenced against the world’s unbelief and violence. Meet your temptations for what they are: lies. Meet the Devil for who he is: a liar. And rejoice that you have been given a seal on the promise of your salvation! A bright shining promise made by he “who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
What awaits our Lord in Jerusalem is an ignoble death on the Cross. He knows this. Yet he rides into Jerusalem like a slave on a donkey. And though he is cheered as a king, he is abandoned like a beggar to beg for his life. . .even as he dies. His face shone like the sun on the mountain. But it bleeds on the Cross. His clothes become brilliant white on the mountain. But when he is lifted up on the Cross, he wears a king’s purple, red with his own blood. And when he stands before the disciples shining and bright on the mountain, he stands with Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets; yet in the garden he is alone. On the Cross he is a criminal among thieves. He knows all of this. And he appears to his disciples to seal an ancient promise of mercy. He appears, transfigured, to ease their doubts, to strengthen their resolve, to bolster their lagging faith.
Are you ready yet to abandon your Lenten fasts? Your sacrifices? Are you ready to deal with the Devil and shop among his lies? Are you ready to stop this crazy ride and get off? If so, hear this one more time: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Listen to the Cross. Listen to the fall of the temple veil as it crashes. Listen again to Paul: “Beloved, bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” Listen to Jesus say as he touches your hand, “Rise, and do not be afraid!”
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