Frances writes on the Readings for Lent 2 :- Just recently I watched the film ‘Out of Africa’ again. This is a beautiful account of how a young woman, who believed her life all mapped out; with a suitable husband; a farm in Africa; loads of glass crystal andLimogeschina and above all many black servants and workers had to learn to change dramatically. Over a period of years, due to illness, a disastrous fire and the death of a loved one, she learned to become detached from all those things; in the end rejoicing in the love she had found (and lost) and the country and people she had known. Such ‘transfigurations’, and there may be many in our lives too, are the stuff of life as we learn who we are and what our lives are truly about.
In our Gospel (Mark 9:2-10), the account of Jesus’ transfiguration, we see a moment in time in which Jesus is confirmed in his role as Saviour of the world by the Father,and the manner of that mission is made clear to him. The foundations of Judaism – represented by Moses – the law, and Elijah – the prophets – will affirm his role from within Judaism which would ultimately go on to reject and kill him. Peter, James and John too are transfigured by this experience. Initially they were all terrified, as we see from Peter’s response. Yet, by following the Lord, their lives too were dramatically changed. They began to understand the meaning of Jesus’ life and his ‘rising from the dead’ and as they perceived its implications for them, as they committed their lives to his cause and the spreading of the Good News, ultimately two of them would be killed. As a consequence of their transfigured lives the Church would grow and we too would become heirs to their new lives.
Now clearly not all of us have quite such life transforming experiences as the apostles did, yet those opportunities and events do occur for us too. It may be through illness; or tragedy; or even great joy and opportunity that the whole of our lives may take turns we never even previously considered. St Paul wrote to the Christians of Rome, (Rom 8:31-34) on precisely such an issue. He had been discussing with them in this letter the sheer impossibility of salvation on our own merits and yet, such was his experience of God’s grace that he knew God could and does transfigure and transform the lives of very ordinary men and women, even terrible sinners – like himself – or those, like many a Roman convert whose behaviour frequently fell far short of the ‘good’. “With God on our side who can be against us?” Jesus, Paul affirms, always stands at the right hand of the Father and pleads for us, and with his grace there for us we will be made acceptable to God, our ultimate transfiguration is assured.
Our Old Testament story from Genesis (22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18) is about another dramatic transfiguration. Quite clearly, it recalls a very early time when peoples of the ancient world sacrificed their children to the pagan gods. Other references in the Books of the Kings record other such incidents. It shows us a moment of transition, or transfiguration as Abraham turns decisively from his ancestral deities and practices and commits himself to the worship of God. The story teaches us that ways that often seemed right, sanctioned by centuries of practise or by family and kin, may prove to have been wrong or at least outmoded, the point Paul also makes to the Jewish Christians of Rome. Abraham was a great man for change, first leaving his ancestral clan lands nearUrin Southern Iraq, then travelling all the way up the Euphrates into Palestine and slowly discovering new ways of worship, a new God whose invitation to him was very different from what he had previously accepted. The story of his willingness to sacrifice Isaac is a tale of new-found trust, an intimacy and an awareness of God he had not previously realised; otherwise, how else can we understand his preparedness to offer his only child to the divine, and the great shift in his understanding which came with it? Perhaps for us too, this Lent will be about the transfiguring of our lives as we prepare to listen to God and find him in the great and small events of our daily lives.