March – Transfiguration and Lent
3 March: Transfiguration of Jesus
While this Sunday is called the Transfiguration of Jesus, I often wonder if it shouldn’t be known as the transformation of the disciples (us). In chapter 9, Jesus has revealed that he is the Son of Man, that he is going to the cross, and that all who want to follow him must take up their own cross. Not surprisingly, Peter and the rest of us struggle with this.
Then in our reading today, there are a series of affirmations linking this Jesus (looking towards the cross) with the great stories of faith. Upon a mountain he is met by Moses and Elijah, he is covered in shining glory, and then a heavenly voice confirms Jesus’ identity and implores us to “listen to him”.
The Way of the Cross is indeed confusing and at times a struggle. But it is not ours alone. We belong to a much larger story, and join with a multitude yearning to see Jesus. What encounters in your life have given you confidence in your faith?
Many of the great stories of faith have pivotal moments in the wilderness. It is there that we are shorn of our pretensions and learn to trust fully in God’s faithfulness. As our journey through Lent begins, we are invited to be with Jesus in the wilderness again. What are our weaknesses and temptations? The need for certainty, power, glory, or control? Jesus is challenged with each of those, and in response recalls the words of Deuteronomy (chapters 6 and 8). He remembers the hard-won faithfulness of the Israelites emerging through the wilderness, and draws upon them for his own struggles as his public ministry begins.
The invitation to journey through Lent is to mimic, in our own small way, a wilderness journey. These wilderness journeys may be strange and unsettling, but in scripture they are always led by the power of the Spirit. Giving something up; letting something go; taking up a new practice; are all ways we can learn again to lean on God, not on our own strength. What Lenten practice will you hold?
Those with the most invested in the way things are now, are those most challenged by the gospel of Jesus which promises to transform all things in the reconciling love of God. Herod and the Pharisees are shown to be vocal opponents to Jesus and his discipleship community. What is it about your church community that seeks gospel change and thus provokes opposition?
Jesus is not deterred though. He has “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51), and walks the way of the cross. God’s glory is not fully shown in power politics like Herod’s, but in the faithful, servant nature of the Crucified One. He is probably afraid and definitely angry, but his focus is upon lament for Jerusalem, for Israel, and for the loss of faithful community they represent. He mourns for them all, but now commits himself to go on; not seeing them until they have sung the last song of the Passover Meal (the Last Supper), which included the words of Psalm 118 “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” (verse 26).
Traditionally Psalm 63 is said to have been written by David when he was in the wilderness. Possibly when he fled Jerusalem at the uprising led by his son, Absalom (2 Samuel 15). Regardless of the exact circumstances, we can hear the twin cries of fear and faith intertwined. The Psalmist yearns for God in both the dry and parched desert, as well as in the glory of the Temple. Faith springs from cracked, thirsty lips as much as in the full-throated company of the faithful.
Do you still yearn for God? Do you still crave the peace of God’s presence?
It is all too easy to over intellectualise God and make faith a convenient idea. For a Lenten practice today, find your favourite song, hymn or piece of music. Find 5 minutes, give yourself over to the music. Sometimes joy is a Lenten discipline.
Luke 15:1-2, 11b-32
The parable of the Prodigal Son is quite possibly the most well-known of all parables.
Some of us will take heart from reading as the Younger Son, finding grace and welcome after dark days and shameful mistakes. There is no distance too great for God’s love to find us. Some will see ourselves in the rigid self of the Elder Son. We need the gentle rebuke and loving reconciliation of the Father reminding us that we belong, and have always belonged.
Whichever way we read, it all comes back to that powerful reminder; that we need to learn how to love again, and again, and again. To love ourselves; those who’ve hurt us; those we’ve failed; and those who we take for granted. Who do you usually associate with in this story?
These lectionary reflections were prepared by Rev. Andrew Johnson, Hope Uniting Church Maroubra and Uniting Church Chaplain UNSW.
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