Lent’s invitation to ‘put on Christ’

Father R. Michael Schaab

Living the Word / By Father R. Michael Schaab

Second Sunday of Lent/March 13

Genesis 15:5-12,17-18; Psalm 27:1,7-8,8-913-14; Philippians 3:17 — 4:1; Luke 9:28b-36

Before spending time with the readings for any Sunday, it’s important to keep some general principles in mind. First, the First Reading and the Gospel always share a theme or message. Second, the earliest of the four Gospels was written 30 to 40 years after the death of the Savior. During those early decades of the Church, the message was handed down in an oral tradition — by people retelling the life and teachings of Jesus. They were great storytellers with tremendous memories. Three, as the story of Jesus was retold, the images that the stories created in the mind of the listener were at least as important as the words of teaching themselves, because quite often it was through these mental images that connections were made to the Old Testament and to the Liturgy of the Church.

Finally, there is a principle which refers to readings in Lent especially. Over the centuries Lent grew from a couple days of preparation for Easter to the 40 days we have today, and this growth was due to Lent becoming the vehicle by which new members were initiated into the Church. That’s why Lent is known as the Church’s “annual baptismal retreat.” This principle is, always look for images in the readings that connect them to the sacraments of initiation — baptism, confirmation and Eucharist.

The common theme in today’s First Reading from Genesis and in the Gospel from Luke is God’s desire to communicate with and care for those who have been chosen. In the First Reading the chosen are Abram and his descendants. In the Gospel the chosen are Jesus and his disciples. Abram receives the promise of the land between the “Wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates.” This communication comes in the form of a covenant. In the Gospel, Jesus — the New Covenant — receives God’s affirmation in the short phrase, “This is my chosen Son,” and his disciples receive the command to “listen to him.” This communication comes in the form of a transfiguration.

DARKNESS AND LIGHT

In both the First Reading and the Gospel we find the contrasting image of darkness and light. Abram was enveloped by “a deep, terrifying darkness,” which was overcome by a “fire pot and a flaming torch,” while in the Gospel Jesus appears as light — “He became dazzling white,” and he then enters into darkness, “a cloud came and cast a shadow over them.”

Rather than look on these 40 days as something we have to do, it’s best to recognize that Lent is a time to allow the Lord Jesus Christ to be God in our daily lives.

This same contrast of light and darkness is celebrated in the words of the “Exsultet” which is sung at the beginning of the Easter Vigil when the light of the Paschal Candle is brought into the dark of an empty church. It’s that same light that will be shared with each new member of the Church as they are baptized and “receive the light of Christ.” And, it’s that same light that those already baptized profess in the Responsorial Psalm when they declare, “The Lord is my light and my salvation.”

The image of God speaking from a cloud also reminds us of baptism, for at his baptism in the Jordan Jesus hears the words, “This my beloved son in him I am well pleased,” coming from heaven. And, these same words apply to every newly baptized as they become a son or daughter of God. Near the end of the Rite of Baptism of a Child it states, “This child has been reborn in baptism. She (he) is now called the child of God for indeed she (he) is.” It challenges Christians to be Christ in their own place and time.

Another image from the Gospel that connects today’s Scriptures to baptism is seen when Jesus’ “clothing became dazzling white.” The clothing of Jesus becomes a symbol of Christ himself. In the Rite of Baptism, immediately after a person is baptized and anointed with Chrism, the minister presents a white garment and says, “You have become a new creation and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity.” The baptized are called upon to bring that dignity unstained into heaven. Again, this challenges Christians to be Christ in their own place and time. As St. Paul says, we are to put on Christ.

DYING AND RISING

So the images found in these readings for the Second Sunday of Lent actually focus on the events at the end of Lent, the events of the Paschal Mystery — the dying and rising of Christ — into which the Christian is baptized. The Second Reading takes us one step further, though. This section of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians is often quoted in funeral liturgies and in the Rite of Christian Burial:

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.”

So the biblical images which focus on baptism are joined to the biblical words of teaching that focus on not just the events at the end of Lent, but the event at the end of our life here on earth. These words explain how completely we are to “put on Christ.” Just as he conquered death and now lives in glory, we also are promised a glorified body after our death.

Two important facts of faith are to be taken away from today’s readings. First, our baptism is not only a baptism into the death of Jesus, but also a baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus. With his resurrection, the Savior conquers death and enters into eternal life. Therefore, at the time of our baptism we also enter, albeit incompletely, into eternal life.

Second, rather than look on these 40 days as something we have to do, it’s best to recognize that Lent is a time to allow the Lord Jesus Christ to be God in our daily lives. “He will change our lowly body . . .  by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.”

These two facts can make all the difference as we continue on our Lenten journey.

FATHER R. MICHAEL SCHAAB is a senior priest of the Diocese of Peoria who gives retreats and days of recollection, and who fills in as presider at parish Masses on weekends. He resides on a hobby farm in Putnam County.

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