Posted February 27, 2021
2nd Sunday of Lent, Yr B
There is a very sombre section in St Mark’s Gospel where first the shadow of the cross falls abruptly upon the narrative, then gradually it thickens into darkness, until finally the section culminates in those frightening words, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Near the beginning of this section of his Gospel St Mark has placed the Transfiguration (today’s Gospel Reading, Mark 9: 2-10), and, at the end of it, the story of the empty tomb, when at last the bright dawn is announced with the words: ‘He has gone before you into Galilee. There you will see him.’
So the cross and its darkness is framed between the Transfiguration on one side and the resurrection on the other. The lesson for St Mark’s readers is that however fearsome the darkness, it is after all bordered all around with light. As St Peter in his second Letter tells his suffering community, having just recalled his own experience on the Mount of Transfiguration: You are to look to God’s promises ‘as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the star of morning rises in your hearts’.
This interplay of darkness and light, of desolation and glory, goes to the heart of the Christian message. It captures the mystery of Jesus and the nature of the Christian’s calling. But our actual experience often hides from us the bigger picture and lets us see only the darker side of things. For the fact is that hard reality will always have a far greater purchase upon our souls than theology or the promises of Scripture, and even our religious emotions give way to it. When the disciples came down from the Mount of Transfiguration and harsh reality kicked in again, they forgot the image of Jesus transfigured in light. It did not help them when the crisis came.
Will the picture of Jesus transfigured in glory, and the promise of Easter, sustain us in the darker phases of our lives? None of us can be sure that our faith will win through in times of distress. Yet it must be possible. Many have kept, or rediscovered, their faith in the most awful circumstances. And we have all known people, our loved ones and others, who have borne prolonged suffering with wonderful equanimity: to say nothing of the martyrs who adorn the pages of history. The Carthusian martyrs left the Tower for Tyburn with a spring in their step, ‘as cheerfully going to their deaths as bridegrooms to their marriage’, Thomas More observed to his daughter as he caught sight of them from his cell window. Is there something in the hearts of believers, some abiding intimation of God’s loveliness, that can make faith more vivid than even the harshest reality? Was it this that the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews had in mind when he said that Jesus, ‘for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame’?
The cross in the form of Tyburn, or anything like, will not, we pray, lie on our path to eternity. But lesser things will, and perhaps things that will plunge us into such darkness that any past glimpse of Jesus transfigured in glory, or any hope of Easter glory, may not sustain us. We must begin now in earnest to do all that we can to ensure that the bigger picture becomes our default outlook and that faith becomes for us more compelling than hard reality.
Lent is a good time for us to start seeing our pains and difficulties in a transfiguring light; and above all to experience anew, in prayer and in the Eucharist, a personal encounter with Jesus, who has experienced our darkness. And as we pray for ourselves in our own moments of darkness, let us also look beyond ourselves and pray for the countless thousands of people who even as we speak are undergoing terrible suffering. During Lent let us try to stand in solidarity with them; feel their sufferings, and think less of our own; and plead with God to hasten the dawn.
Fr Tom Deidun