New Beginnings And The Road To Glory
The Season of Lent moves from the desert of temptation to the mountain of transfiguration. Without a biblical background, it might seem like the Church in its selection of Scripture, just picks and chooses biblical selections for us to read in a random fashion. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Our baptism marks a new beginning of our life, just as the deliverance of the people of Israel crossing the Red Sea in the Book of Exodus, marked the beginning of the story of the people of Israel. Called by God from slavery in Egypt, the crossing through the Red Sea set a people apart to become the people of God. Called by God, every baptized Christian celebrates the passing over to a new life, free from original sin, the slavery which keeps us from being fully human and fully alive.
Having been called by God to a new life, the people of Israel began their journey through the Sinai desert. Just like our journey of baptism, everything begun can be exciting, wonderful, and full of promise. But it rarely stays that way. Soon the people of Israel were tempted by their hunger, having to scrounge for food in the desert, and having to get along with each other. A journey begun in joy turned to murmuring! “In Egypt we always knew where the food was coming from! In Egypt we at least had a place of shelter! In Egypt we didn’t have to eat the same stuff every day! In Egypt, in Egypt, in Egypt!!” The desert journey for the people of Israel became known as the place of temptation. Each year the Season of Lent always begins in the desert. The journey of the baptized often finds us looking to the past as well. Why do I have to fast? Who cares whether I pray or not? Are all these rules really necessary? Am I really responsible for my neighbor? Murmuring is not limited to ancient peoples trying to figure out who they are. And so the Church always invites us to confront the challenges that leave us less fervent in our faith.
Israel remembers another moment in their journey to the Promised Land, their journey to glory. It occurs after some time in the desert. Israel arrives at Mt Sinai. It becomes a moment of great decision: who and what kind of people was Israel going to be? Moses ascends the mountain and listens for the voice of God. The people remain at the bottom of the mountain and become distracted. They build another monument to their past, an idol to worship. Feeling abandoned by Moses, they turn to what they know. But Moses rises to the top of the mountain and listens for the way to the future. From the mouth of God comes the Word which will guide them. The people of Israel are not just some poor tribe stuck in the middle of a desert. They are God’s people. God provides them direction for their life and for their journey. They will only arrive at the Promised Land if they arrive together. And they can only arrive together if they never forget that first and always they belong to God and serve God alone and that the relationship God has bestowed upon them is the way they must live with each other. Honoring their family, honoring each other’s reputations, honoring each other’s property and relationships, honoring each other’s life as sacred must be the foundation which holds the people together. In these sacred words the glory of God breaks into the world and people are given a clear vision of their identity and their purpose.
So the Church leads us in this Second Week of Lent to another mountain. Like the people of Israel, the baptized people of God need to be grounded in their new identity. At the mountain of God Jesus converses with Moses the great law giver and Elijah, the prophet of reform. Having called disciples to Himself, Jesus wants them, and all of us who follow, to return to our roots and to remember the ministry of the prophets whose task was to keep us centered and focused on living that identity and mission. This moment of insertion into the story of Israel and her God fills the disciples with awe. They see Jesus in a brand new way. In this moment the glory of God breaks through just as Jesus had announced at the beginning of his ministry: “The time of fulfillment is at hand; the kingdom of God is at hand!” (Mk: 1:15) Seeing this glory, the disciples react like human being have reacted in so many ages: “Let’s build a tent!”
Indeed Israel built a tent to house the great commandments and eventually a temple when they came into the Promised Land. Again and again the prophets tried to remind them that God’s glory was never meant to be contained in a building made of human hands. It was their life as a people that was to be as radiant as the sun. In the same way Jesus leads his disciples and we who journey with Him down the mountain to experience God’s glory in their ordinary world. The Gospel of John marvelously depicts that glory not as clothes shining white, but a man on his knees, washing the feet of His disciples; a man on the cross, pouring out every ounce of his being in a final act of love. If we wish to behold that glory once experienced on the top of a mountain our challenge remains, wash the feet of the world; give our lives every day to the service of the new kingdom breaking into our world.