Reflection on the Second Sunday of Lent
Genesis 15:5-18 Philippians 3:20-4:1 Luke 9:28b-36
In these days of war and mounting danger, I find it difficult to know how to pray, for whom and for what. Probably most people turn to the Scriptures or religious tradition for guidance in times of war. In preparing this homily, however, I found myself taking guidance from the war in Ukraine to reexamine the Scriptures and some religious assumptions.
We have in today’s first reading one of the origin stories from Genesis. It introduces a theme that continues throughout the Scriptures, that God gives privileged treatment to some people, that some nations are God’s special people. In today’s passage we hear of God’s promise to a particular individual that he will be the father of a great number. We hear of God’s gift to that special group of a well-defined section of land as their possession. Finally, we see that these gifts of God are accompanied by sacrifice, which seals and confirms the covenant between God and the special people.
Like so many of you, I’ve been glued to the television set (viewing the reports on the war in Ukraine), appalled and fascinated by the reality in that Eastern European country. Against the backdrop of Russia’s misguided claims and the painful consequences in Ukraine, I see the traditional meaning of the Abraham story as part of the problem, seeming to justify the land grabbing, so long as it is based on a cultural belief that God favors them. Indeed, isn’t that the problem between Israel and Palestine? Wasn’t that the issue between the original peoples and the colonizers in the Americas? We need a different understanding, not based on privilege but on universal gift. Perhaps beginning with Abraham as the father of all peoples, a kind of second Adam, and God’s promise to Abraham as a promise of sufficiency and well-being for every people.
Turning to today’s Epistle, Paul tells us that we are citizens of a heavenly realm where such gracious sufficiency is the norm because it is governed by one who has power to bring all creation into subjection. Again, over against the courageous efforts of the Ukrainian citizens to defend their nation here and now, I find it hard to look to heaven and wait for Christ’s saving power. How shall we pray, for what can we pray in the meantime? Is the border between earthly time and heavenly time impermeable?
Of course it is not. We believe in the incarnate Christ, transcending boundaries by virtue of his Resurrection, active in our lives today. Christ gathers all together in one body, in a unity that is neither nation-building nor empire-building but the unity of love. We have seen it on TV, that merciful, compassionate love by which the body of Christ comforts and is comforted. We’ve seen it across national boundaries, across languages and cultural norms. That’s the kind of citizenship we are all destined for, embracing even those who have never known Jesus of Nazareth. And we have confirmation that it is possible today.
Today’s Gospel gives us another glimpse of the possible, in Luke’s account of the transfiguration of Jesus in the presence of Peter, John and James. On the face of it, the transfiguration appears to have occurred solely for the benefit of those chosen three, perhaps as a comforting touchstone for them in the frightening times to come. Or as an awe-inspiring gift to strengthen their faith: “This is my chosen son; listen to him.” Was the transfiguration such a personal event, a private gift for special people?
The presence of Moses and Elijah signifies that Jesus’ transfiguration was something more. Moses was Israel’s guide into the promised land, and Elijah was Israel’s guide to true faith in the one God — their dual presence, even if only as allegorical figures in the story, portends world-changing events, a reorientation that is already under way. The transfiguration signals that the boundary between the heavenly kingdom and today’s earthly travail is porous, no barrier to God’s incarnate Love. The Christ is with us in body and spirit. He shows us the way through every person who loves, and through every person who believes in love. He teaches us how to pray in these times, for whom and for what. For love.