Readings for the Second Sunday of Lent Reflection:
1 Genesis 15: 5–12, 17–18
Philippians 3: 17–4:1
Luke 9: 28b–36
Transfigurations—those sudden splendid moments of vision that open new worlds, new truths, new vistas before us. We have all had them.
The wedding day, the first child, the purchase of a home, the first full-time job and paycheck, the first car: Think of those times when life suddenly seemed glorious, full of promise, opportunity, and joy.
In his book The Prince of Tides, Pat Conroy describes a moment of transfiguration. The book is about the Wingo family of South Carolina, a complex family, indeed. One day after a particularly bad family fight the mother, Lila, takes the children to the beach near their home. It is evening.
"I have a surprise for you, darlings," she says. "There's something I want you to see. Something that will help you sleep. Look over there, children." She points to the eastern horizon.
The author continues his story:
"It was growing dark..., and at the exact point her finger had indicated, the moon lifted a forehead of stunning gold above the horizon.... Behind us, the sun was setting...and the river turned to flame.... The new gold of moon astonishing and ascendant, the depleted gold of sunset extinguishing itself…, it was the dance of days in the Carolina marshes.... The moon then rose quickly, rose like a bird from the water...—gold, then yellow, then pale yellow, silver bright, then something miraculous, immaculate, and beyond silver, a color native only to southern nights.
"We children sat transfixed before the moon our mother had called forth from the waters. When the moon had reached its deepest silver, my sister, Savannah, though only three, cried aloud to our mother, to Luke and me, to the river and the moon, 'Oh, Mama, do it again.'"
The mother had brought the day to a glorious end for her children. After a day of misery with their father, she set their minds and hearts on fire with hope and wonder. A memory was provided which would carry them through life's harsh journey. She seemingly had set the moon for them and that transfiguring memory would be recalled again and again.
In the Gospel today, the Lord "sets the moon" for his disciples. At this point in time it is a necessary thing to do. The initial fervor is spent, the crowds are beginning to question and doubt. Ahead lies the defining trip to Jerusalem and his passion. So, the Lord provides them with a radiant vision, which can bring them joy and hope in the dark days ahead.
For whom do you set the moon? Whose face, whose mind and heart do you and I transfigure? Whose journey in life do we fill with some hope? Whose storehouse of memory do we help to fill? For those fortunate to be with little children, you do it every day. For those of us without children, or whose children are grown, it becomes more difficult. But the Gospel challenges all of us to "set the moon" for someone, to transfigure the lives of those we meet.
The journey to Jerusalem is tough going, and it is rougher still for those whose lives are marked by unemployment, homelessness, broken relationships, inner confusion, sickness. Somebody has to set the moon for them too. The temptation, as it was for Peter, is to freeze the moment of transfiguration, to stay on the mountain and forget the journey. But that cannot be. We move on, press forward, but with a memory that gives us hope.
At the end of the novel, Savannah, the grown-up daughter who is now a poet, begins a long journey back to mental health from a psychological illness. She says to her brother, "I'm going to make it, Tom." Then she looks at the sun and moon and adds, "Wholeness, Tom. It all comes back." She then faces the moon, which is higher now and shimmering in the sky. Raising herself up on her toes she thrusts her arms in the air and cries out: "Oh, Mama, do it again."
To give hope to others, to create moments that inspire, encourage, and motivate others: This is the work of the Gospel. As followers of the Lord Jesus it is only natural for us to ask the Lord to transfigure himself in us; as professed disciples of Jesus, it is only natural for others to ask the same thing of us.