What we expect to hear in Lent are lessons on fasting, prayer, alms-giving and perhaps the corporal works of mercy. This Sunday however, as many have noted before, we are surprised to hear the account of the Transfiguration of the Lord. The leap from the lessons we heard last week - about the fasting of Christ, his hunger and resisting temptations of the devil - to the glory of Christ’s divine face briefly revealed to the apostles on the mountain, seems initially a rather rushed if not an odd development.
Yet when we listen attentively to the story of Abraham who is led out of his home land and given a promise of a great inheritance, and when we consider how persistently St Paul urges us not to trust in earthly things but rather put our heart in our ‘heavenly commonwealth’, it becomes clear that the readings are focused on expectation itself.
What do we expect of our Christian lives and religious practices? What do we expect of the Lord?
Many of us simply seek peace of heart and mind in the life of faith. Many value the character building qualities of the Catholic discipline and want to raise their families in that spirit. Some want to strengthen their life of virtue. Some seek consolation because they are in pain and want to join their suffering to the suffering of Christ. Other still find here a treasure trove of energy and inspiration to make our world a better and more just place. We could surely continue here with a long list of possible answers. All of them are noble and good in themselves.
But today, only the second Sunday of Lent, another expectation is pointed at, prompted by the passage from St Luke’s Gospel: it is the hopeful expectation to be raised to experience with Christ the glory of the Resurrection; the glory of his radiant face.
Our instincts may tell us to make the best of this world, to make the best of God’s good creation and to govern it with justice. But we are reminded today we should not aspire to pitch our tents here in the expectation that we might forever glory in the clumsy successes of our earthly stewardship. To do so would be plain vanity.
The true prize of a faithful Christian life does not consist of a peace of heart and mind or consolation in suffering, however relevant they may be to our present situation. The true prize of our lives begins in the Resurrection, the transformation of ‘our lowly body after the pattern of Christ’s own glorious body’, and achieves its fullness and rest in the vision of God, face to face.
On this Sunday, and indeed everyday of our lives, we are invited to imitate St Paul, not just in the discipline of his life in Christ, but first of all in his hopeful expectation to be united with Christ in the glory of the Resurrection. Every time we fast or give alms let as renew this expectation within us.
‘A voice came out of the cloud, saying, "‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”’
‘And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.’ (Luke 11:9).
Lord we ask you for nothing less than to open for us the doors of our heavenly home and to grant us the vision of your face in the glory of the world to come.