Second Sunday of Lent (A) | Fr David Rocks ponders the fleeting goodness of the world and the enduring goodness of God.
“No more birthday party for me”. Such were the words of one of our youngest parishioners as he watched the banners coming down, the characters being put away, and the room returning to how it always looks. It’s wonderful when you’re always learning, when experience and discovery are almost indistinct concepts. Good things come to an end – that’s not the easiest of discoveries. When you’ve been on the birthday party circuit, marking those all-important milestones at the beginning of life, when “I’m three” “I’m four” “I’m five” “I’m big” are important and veracious statements of achievement and self-realisation; when you’ve been looking forward to your turn and then realise it’s over and it had to pass, it stings a little. Back to the mundane. Plenty more to discover, lots to look forward to – you’ll be even bigger next year. But nothing is quite the same as your birthday, and it’s still a long way before Christmas. Still, it is good that we have been here. That is a nice thing to discover.
Treasured memories of grace-filled moments are priceless. They are milestones for us, reminders of God’s favour. They justify our hope and inspire greater faith. It is good that we have been here. They are, however, insufficient. There is a certain lack of completeness. Wonderful as these moments were, and can be, their fleetingness betrays the greatest single flaw – they are not eternal. But that leads to hope, that something even more wonderful will come upon us. Oh that we could have that experience now! Oh that we could experience that sweet bliss forever!
Good things must pass away so that the everlasting joy can be received. Peter wanted the fullness of the glory then and there, on the high mountain. How quickly it was gone, yet how full would be its return. Until then, there would be a path to travel, marked by the Lord’s Cross. Peter, not alone among the disciples, recoiled from the Cross. This moment of transfiguration gave him a profound hope, for he writes: “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. For he received honour 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.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.” (2 Peter 1:16-18). Truly this was a treasured memory for Peter, an experience that would give him the resources to endure the trials he would be called to face in the future. It would help him to learn the lessons of the Cross, and to open himself to acceptance of it in every facet of his being.
Truly it was good for him to be here. In the presence of the transfigured Lord, he personally encountered the Law and the Prophets, those great symbols of hope for God’s people that were not a fulfillment themselves, but are fulfilled by Christ and his embracing of the Cross. For us, it is good that we are here, in this graced season. Through self-denial, we encounter the fleeting goodness of the world, and receive the opportunity to reach for an eternal reality. We do so secure in the knowledge and experience of God’s goodness, and with a profound insight into the depth of his love for us.
All of our experience of passing joys and sorrows points to the reality that we will have our own encounter with death. The Christian life sets out to prepare us for that encounter. The disciples saw the glory and the majesty on that high mountain, but there was still a way to go. You and I have still a way to go until the encounter with the Cross. We may not know the when and where, but it is good for us to be here. There’s plenty more to discover, and much to learn. The courage to endure will be granted through prayer.
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. of mountains around Anchorage, Alaska.