Today we have St Luke’s version of the Transfiguration. It has several interesting elements that can help us understand the time of Lent. I would like to focus on just two. First, St Luke tells us what Jesus and Moses and Elijah are talking about: Jesus’s exodus. Second, we have the cloud of the presence of God overshadowing not just Jesus but also Peter, James and John. So, how do these two elements help us understand the time of Lent?
First, Jesus’s exodus. The Exodus is the defining event of the Old Testament. It gives us the pattern of how God saves God’s people. How God frees them from slavery, and how God leads them into freedom. This is a pattern that recurs in many places. We can see one such instance in our first reading. Though this happens to Abraham and therefore before the Exodus, we can see the same pattern.
God has promised Abraham children. Abraham has begun to doubt God’s Word. So, God reiterates that same word but at a deeper level. The ritual we have in our first reading when we understand it looks exactly like the Exodus. Apparently, this ritual accompanied the making of a solemn promise. The dead animals on either side symbolise the consequences of breaking one’s word. That is, the person’s walking among the dead birds and animals says something like: may I be like these animals if I do not fulfil my promise. That is: my life is one with my word. If I break my promise, may my life be forfeit.
But when God does this, it is something more, because: how can God die? Somehow it seems like God is substituting for Abraham’s death. Abraham feels like he is as good as dead because he has no children. God though seems to be saying I will go into death that you might live, that you might have children.
This of course is what happens at the sacrifice of Isaac. This is what happens at the Passover. This is what happens at the Exile. Most importantly, this is what happens at the Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. God takes our death, and gives us God’s life. This is the pattern of God’s involvement with us, a pattern that just gets deeper and deeper. And Moses and Elijah are talking with Jesus about how this pattern is going to reach its fulfilment when he makes his exodus, when he substitutes himself for us, and by doing so frees us, and then leads us to the promised land. His Exodus will be his passion, death, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father.
When we see this pattern, the world becomes suffused with God’s light. We have the burning torch going between the dead animals. We have Jesus illuminated with the divine light. This shows the truth behind the events. It reveals the main character as God. When Jesus goes ahead of us into death, it is God who is going ahead of us. And so the night of the Passion becomes as bright as the day. The darkness of his death becomes the darkness of a light too bright for the eyes of the world. Only the eyes of faith can see this truth.
But there is more than this. Just as in the Annunciation, Mary was overshadowed and so revealed as the place of the presence of God, so in the Transfiguration, it is not just Jesus who is overshadowed. Now his disciples are too. In some way, not only does the Transfiguration prefigure the Exodus of Jesus, it also prefigures the Eucharist and Pentecost when Jesus will make us part of his body. This then is what Lent is about.
We as the Church know that Christ has gone ahead of us. Christ has made death into the promise of new life. We his disciples then know that everything that seems to threaten our worldly life, all the things that undermine our ego, all the things that seem to shake our grip on the world, our possessive approach to life: all of these are in fact God trying to help us let go, let go of the things that enslave us, let go of all the things that are stopping us from joining Christ in the exodus from slavery to freedom. All the things we think we need to live, when there is only one thing necessary.
Lent then become the time for us to make this truth our own. We are to pray for freedom. We are to fast from our appetites. We are to give away our lives to our brothers and sisters. We are to suffer these deaths. Fight temptation. All of these things that look like death, we now know are the ways to true life.
And this is the crucial thing. They do look like death. To our brothers and sisters, praying looks like a waste of time. Fasting looks stupid. Wasting our lives on others looks pointless. All of this does look like death. But when we do this, when we live this way, we share in the light of Christ. What looks like death begins to shine like the resurrection. The world gets confused. They see the death but they also see the joy, the truth that seems to overwhelm all else. And so they cannot look away despite themselves. They get a sense of God.
Lent then becomes the time in which we are trained for evangelisation by making Christ’s death our own, so that we might transfigure the world with his resurrection which is ours in baptism, but ours for our neighbours.