St Catherine's Monastery Mt Sinai
Second Sunday in Lent
One of the greatest feasts of the Eastern Christian calendar is that of the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor, for it is linked with part of their spiritual tradition of the indwelling light of God in us. Somehow the image of the Transfiguration, Jesus in the midst of Moses and Elijah, bathed in brilliant white light, standing at the top of the mountain, whilst the three apostles lie sleeping below is perhaps one of the most powerful images in iconography. The scene invites us to reflect, to stop still and in silence, not word, soak up that light to feel it penetrating our lives. The light of Tabor is a reflection of the glory that will be ours, the risen presence of Christ who will bathe us in eternal light, it is a moment when we lift our eyes form the valley of life and see beyond ourselves and glimpse a hint of what will be.
Is this fanciful imagining? Lent after all is a time both of preparation for those to be baptized and of positive penance for the faithful; it invites metaphors and images of struggle, learning things again, conversion of our lives, turning back to the Lord from divergent paths, and yet Lent is also a preparation for Easter, that greatest of feasts, the Paschal triumph of the Lord, the overcoming of death and destruction. Our first reading from Genesis starts today with the command, ‘Look up to heaven and count the stars if you can’. I love that image, it suggests a concern beyond the immediate a reminder that we are part of space and cosmos, not simply earth bound creatures, but it also commands us to lift up our heads, look beyond ourselves. Paul reminds us in Philippians of how we will be transfigured like Christ is.
How can this be? In my life as a monk at Farnborough Abbey, I once heard a recording of Fr Bede Griffiths preaching at Vespers on the feast of the Transfiguration. His words still haunt me because the simplicity of his vision struck a deep chord in my own seeking for God.
What he said was quite simple and I paraphrase: we walk and live in the valleys of life, we get on with things, we work and pray and oft times find the going tough and sometimes we have to climb hard, struggle with new levels of life, but then occasionally a voice calls, us a person meets us, and we look up to glimpse the brightness of love at the top of the mountain and for a moment we stay there transfigured, changed by Love itself. Then we go back to the valley but remember that glimpse. In this Lent may we glimpse that love which promises us eternal life.
Fr Robin Gibbons is an Eastern Rite Chaplain for the Melkite Greek Catholics in Britain.