It is Saturday evening as I write and I have just arrived back in Amberley after the Vigil Mass at Hanmer Springs. The Christian Sabbath has begun.
In my homily at tonight’s Mass I recalled a pilgrimage I made to the Holy Land a few years ago. One of the distinctive natural landmarks about half way between Nazareth and Tiberius (on the shore of the Sea of Galilee) is Mount Tabor (pictured), the mount of the Transfiguration.
For many Christians this weekend’s Gospel reading of the Transfiguration of Jesus is one of those scripture passages that doesn’t seem to have a lot to do with daily earthly reality. It’s easy enough to relate to a teaching about not stealing or forgiving an enemy, but Jesus and three of his disciples hearing the voice from heaven “this is my beloved Son, the beloved, listen to him” while Jesus’ face “shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white” with Moses and Elijah present, well, it all seems a bit much – and even rather unnecessary.
It was on this Second Sunday of Lent four years ago that Pope Benedict gave his final Sunday Angelus address. You can read his full reflection at this link. He reflected on the primacy of prayer reminding us that without prayer “the entire commitment to the apostolate and to charity is reduced to activism”. Without a lived and vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ, the potential of earthly human life is reduced to an existence in which, at times, we feel as though we struggle to survive. Without Christ, life on earth is too often just hard work.
English, Catholic , Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins conveys this powerfully in his poem which begins: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” yet in the same stanza he tells that “Generations have trod. have trod, have trod; / And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; / And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell:”
Hopkins knew that this smudged and smelly trodding was not what humans were created for, and he finishes his poem: “Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs – / Because the Holy Ghost over the bent / World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”
It is precisely the gospel passages that are impossible to understand simply on a human earthly level that help us to understand that Jesus is not just another human role-model or even a human friend. Thanks be to God, Jesus is God.
This is the heart of the Good News for each of us. I have many friends, but none of them are able to work miracles in my life. None of my friends, not even the best of them, are with me every moment of the difficult days and the dark nights. But in Jesus is God present in every moment listening for the slightest hint of invitation to reveal his presence.
We get a glimpse of the reality of Jesus as God in the Transfiguration. But this historical account is not enough for me. When I turn to God today, asking, thanking, praising or questioning, I am inviting the full reality of Jesus who is God alive and present today into my life today. My participation today in the divine life of God brings a life-giving perspective to every moment.
Tomorrow I will share this message at Masses in Amberley, Hawarden and Waiau. I do this knowing that those who gather to worship know their need to be encountered by Jesus who is not simply another human friend, but the God without whom we are destined to remain restless.