Lent offers us the opportunity to ponder and sacrifice for what is truly lasting
Living the Word / By Shawn Reeves
Second Sunday of Lent / Feb. 28
Genesis 22:1-2,9a,10-13,15-18; Psalm 116:10,15,16-17,18-19; Romans 8:31b-34; Mark 9:2-10
Working with engaged couples, I am sometimes dismayed to see how much more planning and imagination has gone into the wedding day than the marriage. The vast majority of couples I have worked with are fine couples with an appropriate outlook on marriage. But there is a minority who have adopted our culture’s obsession with certain idealized moments in time, romanticizing the wedding day as the goal itself rather than an evanescent passage into something greater.
Most of life is ephemeral, seasons of passing moments. But some things endure. Some things have permanence. But enduring things require much from us. And the more vulnerability and trust demanded, the more difficult they are. In other words, they require a certain sacrifice of ourselves. But in our innate desire for security and permanence, our inclination is to settle in good feelings, to rest in the protection and comfort of a satisfying moment in time. Whether a bride and groom envisioning their wedding day or a band of apostles glimpsing into the divinity of their Messiah, the urge to shrink into a happy moment is powerful.
This Lent is an invitation to renew curiosity in God’s transforming power. And it all begins with “questioning what rising from the dead meant” to the Apostles then and to us now.
In our Gospel reading, we witness St. Peter announce, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Overcome with awe at the sight of Jesus dazzlingly transfigured and appearing with the symbols of the Law (Moses) and Prophets (Elijah), “he hardly knew what to say.” But clearly he did not wish to come down from that mountain and leave that moment. Instead, he desired to shelter himself within it.
EMBRACING CHANGE, GROWTH
But we cannot control the outcome of time, muffling its propensity to bring change. In fact, to do so is to stifle our own growth, our own transformation.
Abraham and the Apostles were both made vulnerable, both challenged with a call of radical trust during mountaintop events. Abraham’s trust in God’s promises was placed at odds with the sacrifice of the focal point of those promises — his son. The Psalmist’s words, “I believed, even when I said, ‘I am greatly afflicted’” could very well have been Abraham’s own.
The Apostles’ zeal for their transfigured Lord was immediately overshadowed by Jesus’ announcement of the resurrection, “so they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.”
While some Church Fathers (St. John Chrysostom) speculate that Abraham possessed an implied faith in a kind of resurrection of Isaac, and the Apostles went on to witness to Christ’s resurrection in dire circumstances, they all struggled with transition. Both Abraham and the Apostles faced the unavoidable necessity of wrestling with what had been revealed to them. They both were thrust into the passing away of one thing and the emergence of another (and not just of their circumstances but of their understanding of God, as well).
The temporary distress of Abraham is juxtaposed to the lasting promises of God, and the passing death of Jesus is placed in opposition to his enduring resurrection and ascension. Even the provisional Law of Moses and the Prophets are distinguished from the permanence of Jesus’ divine Sonship and identity as the Risen One. As St. Paul insists in our second reading, “Christ Jesus it is who died — or, rather, was raised.” His sacrificial death was a temporary, transitional passage into the permanence of resurrected glory.
INVITATION TO TRUST
Liturgical seasons are about transition and transformation, mirroring salvation history. There was a season for Abraham to be the father of Isaac, his “only one,” and a season for Abraham to be “father of a multitude” (the Hebrew meaning of his name). There was a season for the Law, a season for the Prophets, and a season for both to find their fulfillment in Jesus. There was a season for Christ’s death and an everlasting season of His resurrected life.
Seasons demand vulnerability and trust. This Lent is an invitation to renew curiosity in God’s transforming power. And it all begins with “questioning what rising from the dead meant” to the Apostles then and to us now.
SHAWN REEVES has served as the director of religious education at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign since 2001. He and his family attend St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Thomasboro.