This Sunday we recall (first reading) how Abraham was praised and rewarded for not holding back from offering his own son at God’s command. Then with Paul (second reading) we appreciate that God did not hold back offering his only son as well; in this case the son was not spared, but allowed to be delivered into the hands of those who would crucify him. Finally in the Gospel, the Old and New Testaments come together, the Law and The prophets (Abraham and Paul, if you will), in Mark’s account of the Transfiguration. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, testifies to the effect of this old and new coming together when he almost corrected himself by saying, “Christ Jesus it is who died—or, rather, was raised. . . .” (indicating that even for him “being raised” was still a very new concept).
The Transfiguration certainly has its “wow” factor, but for our Lenten journey it should be the last 7 words of the gospel that remain in our memory, those words which describe Peter, James, and John as “questioning what rising from the dead meant.” If Lent could be thought of as “the horse” (hope you appreciate this Santa Anita image), and the resurrection as “the cart,” this Second Sunday of Lent sort of puts the cart before the horse. It is almost as if we jump ahead of Jesus’ passion and death to take a quick but meaningful peek at the goal—the resurrection. This liturgical move is intended to be thought provoking. It is meant for us to stop and consider our own strong or weak faith in what it means “to be raised from the dead.”
I know that anyone who has recently lost a loved one knows the real challenge of having faith in the resurrection, with “life everlasting” thrown in for good measure. When a mother, father, wife, husband or life-long companion is suddenly, utterly gone, or when the child “goes” before the parent—no words can describe. And, needless to say, the need to have a handle on what it means “to rise from the dead” is paramount. But why now? Why place all this emphasis on resurrection with five weeks of Lent remaining? Should we not linger a little longer at the foot of the cross? Even the responsorial psalm seems to jump ahead: “I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.”
In the Mass we acknowledge the true presence of Jesus with our “Great Amen”; we pray with “Angels, Saints, and All the Heavenly Hosts”; and we unite ourselves with “those who have gone before us.” Is this not living the gift of resurrection here and now? In the very Eucharist we are celebrating this day, we are best strengthening our potential to bring true consolation and hope to any who have lost loved ones—especially, those who have lost loved ones to tragedy—and to the latest “Valentine’s Day Massacre”!
The whole point is Lenten motivation. Stopping to appreciate the full meaning of resurrection and afterlife, and how this life is simply meaningless without these promises made true, may well be the medicine we need. Maybe Lent 2018 could serve as a good spiritual “kick in the pants” to respond to Jesus’ call to conversion. After all, that was precisely the reason for dragging Peter, James, and John up the mountain—to further convert them and to motivate them for the very rough and challenging road ahead—the road to Calvary! (Talk about preparing oneself to understand why bad things happen to good people!)
In other words: YES to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—Yes to returning to the Lord—for the reward is nothing less than resurrection from the dead and heaven! Of course we want these things for our loved ones, but considering resurrection now begs the questions, “How much do we really want it for ourselves and just what are we willing to do (with the grace of God) to attain it?” We should not, then, lose sight of the Ash Wednesday declaration—from whence we started our journey—“Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart. . . !” Whatever it takes.