Homily for 2nd Sunday of Lent 2008
When was the last time you experienced some very beautiful event?
For me it was to see one of the tiny new prep school students wave good by to his mother in the playground. Was it beautiful in a sentimental way? Yes, but not just that. It was beautiful because of the simple honesty of the emotion. It expressed a whole universe of love and commitment that is involved in child bearing and family life. It represented the first goodby in a growing life that would have many good byes, some of them certainly painful.
It was beautiful also to hear the apology from the Federal Parliament to the stolen generation and beautiful to hear it received. The simple recognition of a pain that had been denied or seen as not important. Mothers and fathers sometimes had not even been given the chance to say good bye to their children.
Matthew says in the gospel today, "Six days later Jesus went up the mountain" (Matthew 17:1). Six days after what? It was six days after Jesus told the disciples that he had to suffer at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes and be raised on the third day. Peter had protested at this and Jesus rebuked him, "Get behind me Satan" (Matthew 16:23). What a fearful response.
So six days later he takes this same Peter, and James and John up the mountain. Could this recall the six days of creation after which God rested? Perhaps. On the mountain Jesus showed a new creation when he was transfigured. It was the seventh day and it was very good. Here he is revealed as the very image of God.
The disciples experienced something incredibly beautiful that day. Jesus face shone like the sun. This, of course, harks back to Moses on the mountain. After receiving the tablets of the Law on Mt Sinai Moses face took on a glowing appearance (Exodus 34:29). He put a veil over his face it was so overpowering. Later the book of Deuteronomy reflects on this: "Never since has there arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses whom the Lord knew face to face" (Deuteronomy 34:10). Moses had met God and lived. Jesus is more than a new Moses. He is Son of God. St Thomas Aquinas said that God is beauty itself. That is a very different from trying to describe God as an all powerful, all knowing, all seeing being. That could be a scarey God. Here, though, is someone so wonderfully beautiful that the disciples wanted to remain with him there.
The word "glory" is used often in this connection. Jesus is revealed in his glory as divine. It is difficult to imagine what it means. Maybe we can see the word as describing something so beautiful that it overwhelms us.
Peter, James, and John, like us, have difficulty believing the reality of the Incarnation. It is said that to experience the divine has as much to do with "the body as well as the soul, with the kitchen as well as the cathedral, with physical pleasure as well as spiritual pain, with human passion as well as contemplative prayer" (Daniel J O'Leary, Already Within, p31). There is no need to stay on the mountain all the time as Peter wanted.
It is often said that Easter returns week after week on Sunday, the seventh day of the week. As we celebrate the Eucharist we relive the experience of the disciples on the road to Emmaus where they came to recognise Jesus as he broke open the scriptures and broke the bread. The Eucharist is the summit and source of our Christian life. It is the sacred mountain at the centre of our lives and our universe where we can see our own lives in the light of Jesus' death and resurrection.
Unfortunately, we are not always able to recognise the beautiful events that surround us. Even the celebration of the Eucharist does not always please us aesthetically. But beyond the external appearances the beauty of the Eucharist is really the people of God gathered abound the table of the Lord. All created in the image and likeness of God: wriggling babies, figiting children, restless teenagers, anxious parents, sleepy old people! All are baptised into Christ and called to be conformed to his image. That is something beautiful!
Beauty eludes us because we can be blinded by the anxieties we bear, by the anger that simmers, unresolved, inside us, by the crippling fears that live in our imaginations. Eucaharist can open our eyes to the beauty of God and set us free.
I am sure that the mother waving to her son had a glimpse of the beauty of God in the radiance of her child face just as surely as the disciples on Mt Tabor.