One of the details about the story of the Transfiguration, which we hear in today’s Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent, that I have always found curious, is that Peter, our parish patron, always wants to build a shelter for Moses, Elijah and Jesus to dwell in. This story of the Transfiguration is found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and each year it is read on the Second Sunday of Lent. In all three versions, as soon as the disciples see Jesus with Moses and Elijah, Peter wants to build a house for Jesus, Moses and Elijah to live in. In each account, as Peter expresses his desire to build these dwelling places, Jesus never really reacts. He acts like He does not even hear Peter and the story continues with God the Father intervening and identifying Jesus as His Son. The Father always speaks to the disciples from a cloud. So what is this all about? Why does Peter seek to build three homes for Moses, Elijah and Jesus and why does Jesus not pay any attention to this offer?
We all have certain moments, good and bad, that we want to freeze in time. How often have we said when someone we love gets sick, “I just want to remember her or him as she or he was.” A parent longs to remember the moment she or he first held their new born baby in their arms. When I became a sassy and rebellious teenager, my parents often said: “What happened to our sweet little boy?” We all love to hold on to those meaningful moments of our lives and keep them in our minds and wish we could freeze time. I would even suggest that we like to hold bad moments in time, like when we hold on to a grudge or refuse to forgive someone for a past wrong. Like Peter, we can all try to save certain moments of time and seek to build shrines that freeze these moments and make them last forever.
Today’s readings are intended to remind us, however, that life is a journey. No one moment can define us and our true homeland is in Heaven. In the first reading today, we hear the story of the call of Abraham. Abraham was a very comfortable older man when God called him. He was called to leave the comfort of his home for an unknown land that God called him to. God promises Abraham many blessings and a son, which in his old age seemed very unlikely. In faith, Abraham trusts in God and sets out on this journey. The theme of journey will continue throughout the coming weeks of Lent as we will hear the story of Moses and the people of Israel as they leave the slavery of Egypt for the freedom of the Promised Land. This journey, which the people of Israel take from Egypt to the Promised Land, prefigures that of our own Christian journey from slavery to sin and death to the freedom of baptism and eternal life. We are all pilgrims and our own true homeland is in Heaven. Jesus invites us to the freedom of knowing that nothing here on earth lasts forever. The only thing that will last forever is in Heaven.
In the Gospel of Mark, the story of the Transfiguration takes place after Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus tells His disciples that He will suffer and die to save them and give them eternal life. The experience of the Transfiguration is intended to show the apostles who Jesus is so that they will have the strength to endure the hardships ahead of them, knowing who Jesus really is. Jesus is shown in this experience to be the Messiah who was longed for by the Jewish people after Moses and Elijah. Because Jesus is the Son of God, the apostles need not fear any of the coming events that will cause them to see Jesus suffer and die. God is with them. They will overcome everything if they walk with God at their sides, remember that their true home is in heaven, and keep their eyes fixed on Jesus. One of Christ’s essential messages to us is, “Do not be afraid,” I have overcome the world. The hope that we are called to place in Christ is beautifully summarized in the psalm response this weekend as it states: “Lord, let your mercy be upon us, as we place our hope in you.” With God at our side, we need not fear anything.
Since the Good News of the Christian message is that God has destroyed death and prepared a place for us in Heaven, we are all of us called to live as pilgrims. This means being grateful for the good things that we receive and living in hope whenever we suffer and undergo trials. No moment in time can or should define us until we get to Heaven. Ultimately, this means that sickness, injustice or sin cannot define us. We can always move on to become what God intends us to be. Those who struggle with addiction and sin should never be afraid to leave it behind for God. Those who live resenting the loss of a loved one, status or a job, must move forward and know that all things will be restored in Christ. One way that many of us try to freeze time and make a moment last forever is by refusing to forgive. By refusing to forgive we hold on to a moment in time, allow it to have power over us, and define the one we are angry at by this moment. This year, our Lenten Retreat will address how we can move on from anger and continue on our journeys free from anger and continue our journeys free from the power that these past wrongs have over us. Father Frank Desiderio, csp, will be here next weekend to preach about forgiveness and how we can let go of a grudge and move on with our lives. His book, Can You Let Go of a Grudge? Learn to Forgive and Get on With Your Life, is available at the back of the church for $20.00 from the Paulists Associates, who are sponsoring this retreat. Hopefully, they can forgive me for not mentioning the book last week at the 11:15 a.m. Mass.
Every time that you and I come to the Eucharist, we are invited to a Transfiguration experience with the Lord. When we come to the Eucharist, we step out of our lives momentarily, just as the disciples did when they went up the mountain with Jesus. At Mass, we encounter the Risen Lord and we are reminded that through everything, He is with us and we ought never be afraid. At Mass, we are reminded that our true home is in Heaven and nothing on earth can ultimately change that reality about ourselves. To get to Heaven, we need to recognize that this is not our true home. We are pilgrims. We cannot freeze any moment of our journey in time. The only thing that will last forever is Heaven. Aware of this, we are called to live without fear, always in hope and forgiving as we hope to be forgiven. That is a incredibly difficult way to live. That is why Jesus has given us the Eucharist as our weekly Transfiguration experience and why we need to call out everyday: “Lord may your love be upon us, as we place all our trust in you.” And another way of expressing that prayer is:
“Our Father, who art in Heaven
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done
on earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”
May God bless all of us our pilgrimage.
Fr. Michael McGourty,
Pastor, St. Peter’s Church—Toronto