“Preparing for Lent”
Have you ever faced a situation in life that you really would prefer to just avoid, but you know without a doubt that it is just something that you must do? Maybe filing your taxes is one example. If I could just forget about doing my taxes every year, I think I would, but I know taxes are a mandatory part of modern life. They must be done. Life has those moments, challenges, and circumstances that we are sometimes compelled to face. Some moments are more serious. I have known some people who have become seriously ill but have refused at first to go to the doctors, because they did not want to face what their illness might mean. Perhaps we walk through this life many times needing to confront difficult issues in life and with fearful expectations of what is to come.
Jesus and the disciples knew of such times in their lives. Jesus whole journey to Jerusalem, with the shadow of the cross ever looming over Jesus’ way was a trip that I believe none of them really wanted to make if it could have been avoided. Actually, the disciples could not accept what Jesus clearly had told them about his impending suffering and death. They may have said in places, “Come let us go die with him,” or “Lord I will lay down my life for you,” in the end they all scattered. They denied him. They could not face the awful reality of the cross.
This is the Sunday before the beginning of Lent. The time when we give thought to the suffering and death of Jesus and what that sacrifice means to us. It is a time to reflect upon what sacrifices we will make for Jesus sake. If we really deeply consider this season of Lent, it occurred to me that this might be a time that we would just as soon avoid if possible. Lent is filled with a lot of serious thought, and consideration of a man who died upon a cross, and we are asked to name for ourselves what that means to our lives, and how it will affect the way we live. Lent is a time for personal testing that comes whether we are ready or not. To use an image, Lent is a time to storm the spiritual beachfronts of our life and claim ground for the kingdom of God. It is a time to face the cross.
How much of an effort will we put into really accomplishing all that Lent is calling us to? All that God is calling us to be? Won’t it just be easier to ignore Lent and just show up at church on Easter morning with the sun shining and the glorious proclamation that Jesus has risen from the dead and lives to bring life to you and me? Yes, it would be easier in some ways, but for those who are truly Christ disciples Lent is something that you just can not avoid. The Christian must face the cross.
It may seem a little odd, but this very reason (That the Christian must face the cross) may be why we celebrate Transfiguration Sunday on this particular Sunday. Many years ago, transfiguration Sunday was celebrated on August the sixth, but the Lutherans following the Protestant Reformation moved the celebration to the last Sunday after Epiphany. In contrast to the burden that we are called to carry through Lent we begin with a picture of the glory of Christ. Lent may be too much for us to bear if we do not remember where the story leads. After the cross comes the resurrection. The saying goes, “That behind every cloud is a silver lining.” Transfiguration Sunday is the day before the heavy clouds of Good Friday start to roll in, and it is giving us a glimpse of the silver lining within those clouds –the glory that is to come despite the sometimes-dark journey through Lent that we must take.
The scripture tells us that Jesus took with him the most inner circle of his disciples, Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. There the account is given of how Jesus garments became unnaturally glistening and intensely white, and Elijah who is understood as being the most revered prophet of God, and Moses whom the very law of God is named after, appeared, and began to talk with Jesus. These two individuals, Elijah, and Moses, represent the word of the prophets and the law –the very truth of God and God’s covenant with all people. As Jesus turns his face to Jerusalem it is with the council given to him by Elijah and Moses.
In the midst of this glory, Peter suggests the idea of building three dwellings or tabernacles. On one hand the Bible seems to indicate that Peter was speaking without really considering what he was saying. On the other hand, some scholars think that the transfiguration occurred around the same time the Jewish Festival of Booths or Sukkot (in Hebrew). For the Jewish people the holiday of Sukkot represents a time of renewed fellowship with God, remembering His sheltering provision and care as the Israelites were led out of Egypt by Moses and traveled in the desert, surrounded by the Clouds of Glory… In practical terms, the festival is celebrated for eight days during which time the people are to dwell in a structure of temporary construction – with a roof covering of branches, or bamboo. These shelters symbolize a dependence upon God’s care and provisions.
If the timing was such and Peter’s mind was dwelling on this festival, then in some ways Peter was trying to be hospitable and maybe looking for a way to keep the moment. After all, how cool would it be to have Moses and Elijah as your guest during such a celebration as sukkot?
However, before the unlikely nature of this idea could be considered any further the scene quickly comes to an end with a cloud overshadowing them and a voice telling them, “This is my beloved son; listen to him.” And suddenly looking around they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
That was an incredible event. The transfiguration defies description and understanding, but I think what is important for us to hear before the season of Lent begins and perhaps before we face any challenges that we fear may overwhelm us is that in Christ is not death but glory. As God spoke on that day and said, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” I wonder if God was trying to say to Peter and to us as well, “If you want to learn what is true, and retain the glory of life for yourself, be quiet and quit babbling.” Listen to the words and life of Jesus. Jesus came so that the glory of God might be revealed and so that we might be changed.
The glory that the disciples saw could not be captured or held or worshiped by building three booths, but that glory can be obtained by everyone who is willing to make the journey to Jerusalem with Jesus, because that is where the glory is to be found.
The Greek word for transfigure is Metamorphoo –it means to transform, change in form” –and occurs only a couple other times in the NT, one where Paul uses it in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
It describes the change in lifestyle produced by faith in Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus underwent a metamorphosis before Peter, James, and John; so, they too, could undergo a spiritual metamorphosis before others.
In 2 Peter 16-19, Peter’s account and meaning of that event is given: (Read 2 Peter 16-19).
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.
17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.
19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
The event made Peter more certain than ever about the reality, the call, and the hope of God’s love for us that was to be found in Christ. These are not cleverly devised myths but pay attention and hold fast to what is true and the light of God’s presence and grace shall rise in your hearts as well. The hope given to us is that someday we shall see Christ face to face and we shall be as he is. As the old gospel song says, “What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought, since Jesus came into my Heart.” Therefore, prepare for Lent first of all with this truth in mind, we are called to glory.
Also, we learn as I said before that every Christian must face the cross. Here, we can not stay on the mountaintop forever. Just as Peter could not preserve or keep the transfiguration event before him so we can not capture the mountaintop experiences of God’s presence within our lives as well. There will come times of hardship and testing.
We all must walk the way of Christ to Jerusalem’s Gates. We all must live out our witness in the real world, but have confidence that whatever you may go through and wherever this Lenten Season may take you, you never are traveling alone. God is with you every step of the way –Even when you can not see the silver lining in the clouds. The glory of Christ that we shall share in is a sure and ever present hope. We know this because in the transfiguration of Christ we have seen the glory that shall be given to us.
Therefore do not be afraid to face the test before you and to storm the spiritual beachfronts that God is calling you to this Lenten Season. You shall accomplish every good work that God has planned for you. Amen