Today, as we celebrate the Second Sunday of Lent with the Gospel reading of the Transfiguration, which has been planted in the calendar at the onset of Lent, gives us an illumination of heaven coming to earth in an ethereal vignette. The bleached white color shone to Peter, James, and John gave an entirely new meaning to purity, innocence, goodness, and heaven. As Peter McKinnon describes so vividly: “Then shadows and shapes, shrouded figures, appeared to join him, apparitions, ancient, mythical faces, wise and beautiful, like holy ghosts, shimmering around him, beside him, beyond him, enveloped by a brume indescribable, shot through with shafts of pink and blue and gold, as though the heavens themselves had opened up and poured out the light into the world.” There are so many symbols here: the high mountain, dazzling white clothes, a cloud, a shadow, and a voice but the light for me becomes the central symbolism of bringing heaven to earth so that God would no doubt get our attention.
Scripture describes how this sense of awe in beauty leaves Peter, James, John, and all of us speechless until a text companioned with melody, harmony, and rhythm emerged, allowing what was witnessed to be expressed in song. The three hymns that mirror today’s Gospel reading, taken from Mark, gives us the vision of what has transpired and transports us there to the top of the mountain where many lessons reveal themselves. When Peter says, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here,” this conveys to us a sense of beauty of the Transfiguration as well as inherent goodness. The composer, Joseph A. Robinson in 1838, wrote the text to the hymn: ‘Tis Good, Lord, To be Here, he gave us the text : “…before we taste death, we see your kingdom come; we long to hold the vision bright, and make this hill our home.” When you sing the melody with the harmonious music, God bestows a radiance of hope in the midst of our darkness during Lent. Two men: composer, Ricky Manalo, CSP wrote the music while Brian Wren wrote the text to a hymn entitled, “Transfiguration inspiring our thoughts and imagination to new heights of God’s Kingdom. While these two hymns use an artist’s brush to paint the image in our minds, there is one more hymn that does something different for us here on earth which is Bob Hurd’s, “Transfigure Us, O Lord.” This hymn is not listed as a Lenten hymn but a hymn inspiring us to discipleship. When I play and sing this hymn, I am transported in prayer to a place of humility within my being. It is just as if God is speaking to me and through me all at once. This piece of music calls all of us to be transfigured on earth through social action whereby calling us to be attentive to the lighted path before us, the hungry, the thirsty, the humble, healing for all ills, pardon for the sinner, a shepherd for the sheep, shall we journey with you and share your paschal road?
Karl Barth states, “close association between the glory on the mountain and the suffering on the cross indicates that this divine beauty unlike secular understandings embraces: death as well as life, fear as well as joy, ugly as well as beautiful…in the embrace of suffering love, form itself is trans-formed” For von Bathasar, “this kind of beauty gives rise to a subjective experience of rapture being transported beyond the boundaries of self. Rapture is linked to divine love; the growing of both creation and incarnation which draws God out of heaven to earth and also draws the believer out of an enclosed selfhood into luminous beauty with God and thus, Community. While exploring the perspectives of Dorothy Lee, she states, “the mountain gives us a place of revelation whereby promising and anticipating a future world without suffering or violence, a place of reconciliation, harmony, beauty, and joy. We need to breathe in the atmosphere of God’s new world pierced by the celestial light of Christ; the mountain instills hope in the unexpected happy ending of the human story.”
Tolkien says in his essay on fairy tales, “he called this hope ‘eucatastrophe’ or overturned and replaced by a piercing glimpse of joy and heart’s desire that has its origins in God.”
Lastly, we are hearers of the Word. As we dialog with God in right relationship, we hear his voice.So today, when we hear the Father’s voice saying, “Listen to him,” we are being told in essence that Jesus, his Son, is the one who is the new and living way and is replacing the old…he is the fulfillment and the promise of the law. “Listen to him.”
Jo-El McLaughlin, OSB
St. Gertrude Monastery,