Opening reflection (taken from Magnificat magazine, www.magnificat.com): As Abram looks up into the night sky and sees the radiant stars, God promises him that his descendants will be just as countless. This moves Abram to put his faith in the Lord. As Peter, John and James look up to the mountaintop and see the transfigured Jesus radiating like a star, they beg for this miracle never to end. God makes a promise: “This is My chosen Son.” The Father asks us to put our faith in Christ: “Listen to Him.” For the transfiguration that we witness is destined to transfigure us: “He will change our lowly body to conform with His glorified body.”
(This weekend's Scripture readings are available in the New American Bible translation at the Vatican’s English website at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM.)
First Reading: Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18 (Revised Standard Version)
A reading from the book of Genesis.
The LORD GOD brought Abram outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." And he believed the LORD; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.
And he said to him, "I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess." But he said, "O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?" He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a she-goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." And he brought him all these, cut them in two, and laid each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram; and lo, a dread and great darkness fell upon him.
When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.”
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: Centuries after the Flood, when it seemed that all humanity had forgotten the God who created all things and had saved their ancestor Noah from the deluge, a man living in present-day Iraq received a divine message. Had he not responded, three of the world's great faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – would not have taken shape. And the eastern Mediterranean land known successively as Canaan, Israel, Palestine and now Israel again would not have become as the “Promised Land.”
Abram, son of Terah, had lived in Canaan at God's command for a number of years as this reading opens. He has prospered as a herdsman, but he and his wife, Sarai, have no heir from their own flesh and blood. God had promised him that he would become a great nation – but how can this be, Abram has asked God, if he and Sarai never have children and an alien (their servant Eliezer of Damascus) stands to inherit his household?
God responds with the awesome signs we read about here. The strange sacrifice needs some explanation. It was customary in the ancient Middle East, when two parties made a solemn covenant between themselves, to sacrifice animals, divide them in half and separate the halves. By then walking between the pieces, the parties essentially declared, “If I break this covenant, may what happened to these animals happen to me.” It amounted to swearing by one's life.
God does not ask Abram – whom He would later rename Abraham – to pass between the divided carcasses. He does so Himself, manifesting Himself in the manner He would later adopt at Sinai and still later on the first Pentecost: as fire. The “fire pot” was a portable oven; it would be heated up by a flaming torch, which was withdrawn when the oven was hot enough for baking. But at this time, in the darkness, Abram could see smoke coming from the fire pot – a symbol of God's invisibility – as well as the bright flame symbolizing His true nature as pure spirit.
Through these symbols, God sealed His covenant with Abraham that his descendants would occupy the whole of the Promised Land. He later would further refine His covenant by promising the birth of Abraham's son Isaac. This was the third of the five great Old Testament covenants – after Adam and Noah but before Moses and David – that carried God's promise of a Messiah down through the centuries. By this particular covenant, God designated Abraham's offspring as the Chosen People, one day to be called Israel. But by first pointing to the stars in the sky, God indicated that Abraham's descendants would be far more numerous than even he could imagine. For, in fact, they would include all who would believe in “the son of David, the son of Abraham” – Jesus Christ. We, too, are the spiritual children of Abraham. We, too, owe our lives and our salvation to the promise sealed with God's fire pot and flaming torch that night in the land of Canaan.
Second Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1
A reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Philippians.
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and mark those who so live as you have an example in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: As he languished in his Roman imprisonment, Paul looked at the world where the members of the local churches he founded had to live. His beloved spiritual brothers and sisters in Philippi would face innumerable trials down the years, as would the Christians of Thessalonica, Corinth, Ephesus and many other communities. And Christians down the centuries would constantly face “enemies of the cross of Christ” whose behavior Paul describes here (though his immediate reference was to the fixation on the Mosaic Law and its dietary principles that the “Judaizers” continued to insist upon as a condition for salvation).
The Judaizers fixated upon what went into the earthly bodies of people. But Paul calls the Philippians, and all who would read this letter after them, to think instead of the glorified body of their risen Lord. By His death and resurrection, all believers in Christ can look forward to the day when their finite, fragile bodies and their infirmities will be left behind. Those who endure unto death, despite all their sufferings, regain their bodies in unimaginable glory when Jesus comes again and asserts His heavenly Kingdom in “a new heaven and a new earth.” If He can do these things, and if He was so glorified when He passed from death to life, how can we not trust in Him and live as He lived? As we ponder these things, let us renew our Lenten commitments even more fervently.
Gospel: Luke 9:28b-36
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke. Glory to You, O Lord.
Jesus took Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white. And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, and when they wakened they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah" – not knowing what he said. As he said this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silence and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
Meditation: The Church once again visits Mount Tabor, the Mount of Transfiguration, as it does every Second Sunday of Lent. Matthew and Mark both provide the essence of this “sneak preview” of the glory that awaited our Lord. Only Luke, however, relays the essence of the conversation between the transfigured Jesus and His two visitors from heaven.
Both Moses and Elijah had spoken with God – at His holy mountain of Sinai (Horeb), no less – as intimately as any human being could. Both had given direct witness to God before His rebellious people, and God confirmed their witness most publicly in the form of fire. Elijah had been rewarded for his faithfulness by riding to heaven – without dying – in a fiery chariot. Though we read in Deuteronomy that Moses died, we also read that “God buried him.” According to the Letter of Jude, St. Michael the archangel contended with Satan over “the body of Moses.” If Elijah was present at Tabor in a body that never died, might not Moses have been assumed body and soul into heaven as Mary later would be?
In any case, these two great prophets speak with the Second Person of the Trinity about His Passion, death and resurrection to come. They had labored for their Lord on Earth without the complete knowledge of how God would keep His promise of a Savior. Now they gave witness to the three men who would play such critical roles in the Church soon to be born: Peter, the first pope; James son of Zebedee, first of the Twelve to die a martyr's death; and James' brother John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and the only one who would die a natural death.
In their terror, this trio did not fully understand what they were seeing. They kept it to themselves until after the great and terrible events to come had passed. But, looking back on their “Tabor experience,” they would realize the inestimable insight given them as a gift by their Brother and Friend. They would draw strength from it forever, though they could not remain there. The gift of Tabor is ours as well.
Close with individual prayer, followed by Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be