Homily for 2nd Sunday of Lent 2007
Hilltops were always sought after in years gone by as sites for Churches. Not so much in these days of high land prices and the requirement that public buildings be easily accessible to everyone. So St Joseph's is on this hill overlooking much of Nambour. The hilltops emphasise that in a Church we seek higher things than the everyday. It highlights the transcendental aspect of faith in God. These days we also want to emphasise that the divine can certainly be found in the everyday events of our lives as well. Physical height of itself does not bring one any closer to God.
The story of the transfiguration of Jesus (Luke 9:28-36) is about that transcendental aspect of Jesus and his relationship with the Father. It takes place on a mountain top. He is not just offering proof of his divinity. At the beginning of Lent this passage is chosen by the liturgy, as Jesus himself choose to reveal his glory, that Jesus' glory and ours must be accomplished through his suffering and death. The disciples cannot remain on the mountain in three tents sharing the intimacy of this encounter with Jesus, Moses and Elijah. The disciples' transfiguration, too, can only happen through continuing the journey to Jerusalem with Jesus.
That is the opposite of our intuitive thinking in our relatively wealthy country. We feel we are entitled to the good life. We deserve only the best of intimate relationships, access to a life full of meaning and purpose, so we imagine. That most of the world has no prospect of the good life at all does not easily fit into our picture of things. Our penance and fasting in Lent and Project Compassion helps keep that wider perspective in mind.
At another time and place as we hear in the first reading (Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18), God offers a covenant to Abram. Abram and Sarah were old and had no heir. How could God's promises to him be carried out if his family were to die out? So with a great light and sound show God makes a covenant. He got Abram to gather some sacrificial animals and cut them in two. Abram went into a deep sleep. And in the trance fire went between the halves of the animals. The fire symbolises the divine presence in the Scriptures. In this way God promised land and descendants more numerous than the stars to Abram.
Usually when agreements were made in this way in ancient times, both parties would walk between the halves of the slaughtered animals. It indicated that if either party reneged on the agreement then that person should be dealt with as were the animals. Here only God passes between the carcases. Abram does not. It is a pretty one sided covenant. God is committed to our salvation even if we are not. That is how much God cares about his children. That is the extent of God's faithfulness.
So we might say it is not until Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, that the human side of that covenant is fulfilled. God in Jesus guarantees both sides of the covenant. The cross tells us of Jesus' faithfulness to the Father even enduring suffering and death for our sake.
That is a tough act to follow. But that is what we are called to do. Paul says (Philippians 3:17-4:1) "be united in following my rule of life." His rule of life is none other than following a crucified Christ the goal of which is the transfiguration of our mortal bodies into the likeness of Christ. Like the three disciples we must follow Jesus down from the mountain and continue the journey. It is the faithfulness of our lives to God and to each other in the ordinary circumstances of our lives that is the best witness to our children and the world around us of the truth of what we believe.