'A glimpse of the Kingdom' - Second Sunday in Lent (B)

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > 'A glimpse of the Kingdom' - Second Sunday in Lent (B)

During the past week we were blessed with the Lenten retreat given by Fr Michael Payyapilly here in the Cathedral. I met Fr Michael maybe about ten years ago when I gave some talks at an international youth retreat held in the Divine Retreat Centre, Kerala, India. Subsequently he was sent by his Vincentian congregation to open a retreat centre north of Sydney, and last year he was in Melbourne. Since coming to Tasmania I had always hoped that I might be able to get Fr Michael to give a mission or retreat here. Last year I invited him and he accepted.

Lent is the time for spiritual renewal about all others in the Church’s year and a parish retreat program was most appropriate for the commencement of Lent. During the week we had some fifty people present each night. I know that for those who attended they experienced a retreat setting that was enriching and inspiring, particularly the preaching of Fr Michael and the general prayerfulness of the nights.

One of the Scripture passages Fr Michael explored on the very first night of the retreat was the Gospel we read this morning. Fr Michael reminded us that just prior to this extraordinary moment of transfiguration on the mountain, Jesus had said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

These words of the Lord taken in isolation can present a rather grim picture of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. It can seem that the Christian life is just meant to be a burdensome struggle, and that it will entail personal suffering.

Having said these words with all earnestness, the Lord then invites three of his closest disciples to accompany him as they climb the mountain, Mount Tabor. It is as though the Lord was saying, “Yes, following me will involve trial, but know what the final outcome is to be.”

On the mountain they beheld the glory of the Lord. They were overwhelmed by the experience. Peter’s comment about wanting to set up three tents was an expression of the desire to somehow preserve this event. He wanted the moment to be captured and monumentalised. Today if you get a chance to climb that mountain, you will see a very beautiful chapel on the site.  

But they were not to stay on the mountain. Very soon after the event, Jesus led them down from the mountain. Fr Michael commented that we cannot expect, at least in this life, to be able to dwell in continual blessing. Much as we might wish for extended times of consolation, this is not our lot. We live, as we say in the Hail Holy Queen, in “a vale of tears”. We cannot abide on the mountain of consolation but must return to the daily patterns of life.

But Jesus gave his three closest disciples of his a taste of glory. It was as if he wanted them to balance his words about taking up the cross with the assurance of final blessing. That indeed, for all his disciples, blessing awaits.
The Christian way is not just to be seen as some hard slog. It is not just daily struggle. Fr Michael shared his own experience of what he called “glimpses of God’s kingdom”. He reminded us that we too can identify such glimpses in our own life. They are only glimpses. They may not last long – just as the transfiguration experience did not last long – but they are precious moments and most important in encouraging us on our journey in this life.

The transfiguration of the Lord on the mountain was not for his benefit but for the benefit of his disciples. It is interesting to note that as they came down from the mountain Jesus charged them not to tell anyone else of this experience, at least until after his resurrection. In other words, this experience was just for them, and for that particular time.

It was like a special gift that was given to them. It was a grace that was meant to help them.

This is how God works. He will give us occasionally little glimpses of the Kingdom. He does touch our lives with blessing. Now, they are usually momentary but they are clearly gifts and often come unexpectedly.

Maybe you can recall such a moment in your own life? I can identify many. Can you identify a special moment of grace in your own Christian journey? Perhaps a moment of revelation of God, of God’s goodness, of God’s love, of God’s presence. It could be a still inner voice; it could be a touch of holy joy; it could be a taste of God’s personal love for you?

Often, because they are momentary, we can easily forget them as time goes on. However, some can be in fact life-changing revelations.

So today in the Mass, having heard the account of the transfiguration, can you identify your transfiguration moments?

Because God walks with us in life. He accompanies us with great love and greater mercy. He hears our prayers. He knows and answers our needs. Because God is Emmanuel, God-with-us. And he is always with us, like he was with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Today we take a moment to recognise this truth, and to understand that we have been the recipient of many, many blessings on our journey of faith.

Maybe we can take a personal moment and imagine that we were on that mountain with the disciples. As we allow our imagination to picture the scene we can become conscious that yes, I have been here before. I have been on this mountain! My experience may have been very different from what happened to the disciples, but it is also the same. I have encountered the presence – the glory – of the Lord.

These experiences are often very, very brief, even sometimes just a few seconds or a minute, and then life returns to normal. However, we have had a glimpse of the Kingdom and perhaps as a result of that we find new hope, new meaning, new purpose as we go on. We have received a moment of grace that has actually transformed the whole direction of our life.

The Scriptures are full of accounts of such moments like the transfiguration. I can think of Moses and the burning bush, or Isaiah’s account of his extraordinary experience of the glory of the Lord in the temple in Jerusalem, or Zechariah’s experience in the Holy of Holies, or Paul on the road to Damascus. Christian history, particularly in the lives of the saints, recounts time and time again the wonderful ways in which God can intervene and reveal his glory.

Transfiguration moments occur throughout history – they are glimpses of the Kingdom, they are experiences of grace.

When we are blessed with such experiences, we are at once humbled and filled with praise of God. Mary’s prayer is something which is so appropriate for us, and can be a prayer that is always on our lips, because “my soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit exults in God my saviour, for the Almighty has done great things for me – holy is his name.”

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday, 25 February 2018

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