The Second Sunday of Lent will bring us to the 12th day of our Lenten journey. Most of us vowed to make specific sacrifices during this time and this is a good spot to reflect on how we are doing. Lent comes to us every year so that it will impact our practical lives in profound ways. If you are like me, however, too often these practices might change some habits, but do not alter us at the core.
Like so many other things in life I think this has to do with our awareness and perseverance. Do we think about our sacrifices often and are we willing to keep them through the thick and thin? Some make the analogy between Lenten sacrifices and New Year’s resolutions. I think they are inherently different, but some statistics on New Year’s resolutions are helpful when applied to Lent knowing that we are almost two weeks in.
Nearly 23% of Americans who make a New Year’s resolution give up within the first week, and more than 64% of Amercans give up on their resolutions within the first month. Hopefully, Lent places a higher calling on ourselves to stick to our promises, but I know that I am often tempted to consider if it is really a big deal to give in here or there.
The Church places this Sunday’s Gospel reading in its present location in order to remind us of the goal and give us the endurance to remain faithful to our promises and show fidelity to our relationship with God. The account of the Transfiguration is one of the most, if not the most, divinely revealing accounts in Jesus’ public ministry. He shows the disciples, and us, who he really is in order to strengthen us in a practical way.
The Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9) takes place directly after Jesus asks the disciples who they think he is and after he tells them that he will suffer, die and rise. Christ also relays what has become known as “The Conditions for Discipleship.” He says, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).
Undoubtedly, many of these words would have been challenging for the disciples. Jesus was conveying that following him meant that there was going to be immense struggles and sacrifices that needed to be endured and made.
As he usually does for special encounters, Jesus takes Peter, James and John with him. We are told that Jesus “took them” and “led them” up a high mountain. Jesus determined the context for how he would reveal himself. This is why we have Lent. God tells us that this is good for us. Climbing high mountains, accomplishing tall sacrifices, is for our good.
I know that I sometimes think that Lent and the other liturgical seasons are arbitrary. This leads me to be more inclined to go through the motions rather than live from the fruit that the season offers. Jesus leads us in Lent towards his empty tomb where he will show us that he is God and that he has conquered sin and evil and death – nothing is more important.
Christ’s appearance radically changes on the mountain and then Moses and Elijah appear. Peter instantly offers to set up camp for them on the mountain. He does not want to leave this glorious moment in the life of Jesus. Less than a week before the Transfiguration, Peter voiced that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God (Matthew 16:16). Now he is seeing it with his own eyes, not merely pronouncing it with his lips.
Jesus does not even answer Peter. Before they know it, they hear a voice from the clouds proclaiming: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). Peter, James and John fall down to the ground in worship. Jesus tells them to rise and not fear and then they make their way down the mountain.
Peter desires to stay on the mountain. Perhaps, because he can’t stop thinking about the fact that Jesus had just predicted his suffering, death and resurrection as well as the need to carry a cross in order to follow him. The mountain of the Transfiguration is easy, life off the mountain is uncertain and challenging.
Jesus does not answer Peter because he knows that staying on the mountain is not an option. His mission, his resolution, is to suffer and die out of love for each and everyone of us. So, he makes his way down the mountain. That is where he and we must go.
This Lent, let us be strengthened by the Transfiguration and resolve to place Christ even more at the center of our Lenten journey. Because going down the mountain is not an option; carrying our cross is a requirement. Bearing it, however, is both the reward and a process that is never done alone.
Listen to him, see him transfigured, and make this Lent – different.
Image courtesy of Unsplash.