Infanticide and human sacrifice were typical demands ordered by pagan gods. However, Abraham is a servant of the Living God, sent to lead humankind out of empty polytheism. In covenant, God shows how prayer and sacrifice (Word and Eucharist) cement humankind’s collaborative efforts to join eternal Easter life. I like to describe this popular first reading account, as Abraham’s Lent. With relational prayer and self-surrender come unimaginable gifts from God to be shared.
Still, terminating the life of one’s cherished offspring seemingly opposes creation at levels not even a child’s teen years can justify. Ever fiercely, a servant of the Living God, Abraham sets out to meet an intense spiritual challenge and dispel a cultural norm. Abraham and the Father share a sacred covenant, but, killing Isaac never crosses either mind, or we can be sure it would have occurred. If we listen carefully, the directive given expects Abraham will offer his beloved child. Abraham’s agreement will make him the father many nations, but it is God’s Son who opens the portal to ever lasting life. Perhaps, we might examine our spiritual lives, throughout this Lenten season, probing areas where we withhold from God.
n verse 5 of Genesis, Chapter 2, Abraham says to his companions, “you stay here with the animals while the boy and I go atop a mountain. We will worship and then come back to you.” Abraham’s use of the plural, allows us to wonder who is testing whom. Could Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving be the steps into deeper faithfulness?
God uses these circumstances, friends, to teach against distasteful cultural norms, setting the stage for an outpouring of life-giving benevolence and abundance. With only an offer in hand, the Holy Creator draws his covenant partners to His side and blesses us beyond measure. Abraham and Sarah avert the agony of loosing their only son, not by human strength, but by faithfulness. A sacred covenant remains intact and a struggling ram, not a child, is slain. God’s faith in humankind and humanity’s, if only faint, inclination towards fidelity allows life to flourish. “If God is on our side, no matter who, the enemy is clearly weaker.” Who will separate us from the love of Christ?”
The Lord often leads humankind atop mountains to impart sacramental wisdom. Remember, Mount Sinai, Moriah, and Carmel, the Mount of Olives. When God invites individuals to a mountain retreat, it is always for prayer and revelation.
Again, in today’s Gospel, Jesus invites three of his most trusted to Transfiguration summit. Jesus appears brilliantly illuminated, with Elijah, representing the prophets, and Moses, the Law, speaking of impending departure. We can wonder if the subject of “succession planning” arises with Peter, James, and John also in their company! A changing of the guard discussion, so to speak! Through Jesus the man, a glimpse of Jesus the post resurrection Divine is presented and recorded.
Peter’s spontaneity is undoubtedly charming and profound, albeit a little underdeveloped. He jumps to his feet, ready to seize the moment, saying! “This is good, let’s get three more tents for Moses, Elijah, and Our Master. You see, each autumn, Judaism celebrates Sukkoth or the Feast of Tabernacles. It is an annual festival that reconstructs Exodus living conditions. Modern Jewish families erect temporary huts, cook meals, and sometimes-even sleep in rapidly thrown together dwellings. The rituals, not only memorize, but moreover, they re-enact events, just as surely as does Holy Eucharist. Peter’s reaction becomes understandable within that social context. Lent reminds us that we remain a pilgrim people on a journey through this life to an eternal and holy dwelling place.
None-the-less, Our Lord’s, transfiguration initiates a “hand off” process, that invites you and I today to be participants! The work of revealing God to all humanity is passed through Jesus, to the Prophets, Apostles and onto us. On Transfiguration Mountain, it is as though Jesus, binds a prophetic and apostolic nature to our baptism, enabling us to a bridge between heaven and earth.
Incidentally, the word Pontiff derives from a word, we use in French for bridge. “namely pont!” And of course, one of the prime responsibilities upon the shoulders of our Holy Father and bishops is that they are safeguard the bridges from one age to the next. Baptism to Eucharist, Word to Action. Pope Benedict emeritus teaches this lesson in these very moments.
Again, with Jesus’ face shining brightly, robed in what looks like a baptismal garment, it seems the perfect occasion, we should once again hear Heaven’s voice. This time though it echoes with an addendum! From beyond the clouds, just as happened above the Jordan River, sound the Father’s creative words “This is my Son, the Chosen, with a postscript, Listen to Him!
Friends, with this second pandemic Lent, let us carve out time for devotion, fasting and charity, making these our living prayer, sacrifice and gift. Perhaps we might examine areas of our lives where realignment is also be necessary. Encamped alongside Abraham, Moses, Elijah, the Apostles and Communion of Saints, let us reset our gaze on God’s Beloved Son. Taking faithfulness, righteousness, and grace into our world with apostolic joy and the promise of eternal life.