Saturday, March 3, 2007

"It is good that we are here."

Second Sunday of Lent, March 4, 2007:

Father Murphy walks into a pub in Donegal, and says to the first man he meets, “Do you want to go to heaven?” The man said, “I do, Father.” The priest said, “Then stand over there against the wall.” Then the priest asked the second man, “Do you want to go to heaven?” “Certainly, Father,” was the man's reply. “Then stand over there against the wall,” said the priest.

Then Father Murphy walked up to O'Toole and said, “Do you want to go to heaven?” O'Toole said, “No, I don't Father.” The priest said, “I don't believe this. You mean to tell me that when you die you don't want to go to heaven?” O'Toole said, “Oh, when I die, yes. I thought you were getting a group together to go right now.”
“Master, it is good that we are here.” We hear these uplifting and joyful words of Peter in the midst of this truly glorious scene of the Transfiguration of the Lord on the mountain. “It is good that we are here.” The joy contained in Peter’s statement should actually be for us a model of our own Lenten journey. This story of the Transfiguration is meant to be a good example of what should happen on our own Lenten journey of faith.

In our passage from Luke, we first hear that Jesus and the disciples went up a mountain to pray. This should already tip us off to something incredible on the horizon. Mountains are extremely important Scriptural symbols for us. Just think through Scripture – important things always happen on the mountain. Abraham encounters God when he goes up the mountain to offer sacrifice; Moses meets God on the mountain and receives the Ten Commandments there; Jesus, again from the mountain, gives us the Beatitudes. On the mountain, big things happen. And for us as well, this place where the Lector stands to proclaim our readings, and the priest or deacon stands to offer a homily is not called a pulpit or a lecturn, it is called an Ambo – the Greek word for mountain. Why? Because this is our mountain. From this place, God speaks to us – through His Word proclaimed, through His ordained minister who preaches in His name. That’s why it is not really appropriate to preach from the aisle – this, here, is the mountain and from it God speaks to us.

When we have the strength and the courage to climb the mountain, there we encounter God in unique and powerful ways; in ways that lift us up and help us and give us the strength to see who we really are in God’s sight. Mountaintops are places of God. And, so we’re not surprised then when we heard that Jesus and the disciples went up the mountain to pray. We’re not surprised, then, when during that mountaintop time of prayer, God reveals His glory and wonder and power in a truly spectacular way. And, we are not surprised when Peter responds to this event so joyfully exclaiming, “Master, it is good that we are here.”

And so too must our hearts be full of the same joy. Lent is our time of mountaintop. It is as though Jesus said to us, “Let us go up to the mountain for these 40 days.” We are given this special time to go away to the mountain – disciples with their Lord – to experience Him in a profound way. Even our prayers proclaim this. The Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer that I will use today says, “Each year you give us this joyful season when we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed.” But, have we really taken the message to heart that this is a “joyful season?” For some reason, we tend to forget the purpose of our penance and see only penance and we can become a joyLESS people during Lent – as though it were joy itself that we gave up for Lent. Not so, says Jesus. Not so, says Peter. Instead, Peter says, “It is good that we are here.” You know, St. Theresa of Avila once prayed, “God, please deliver us from these sour-faced saints.” Or as a friend of mine often says, “It looks like some Christians were baptized in pickle juice.”

Drawing nearer to God; growing in holiness; living up to the call of our baptism – the very things that we focus on during Lent – these are not sorrowful things. If we are naturally and authentically drawing near to God – that absolutely must fill our hearts with joy. My brothers and sisters, welcome to the mountaintop. God is here. He is here in the proclamation of His Word, in the person of His priest, in the bread and wine that will become His Body and Blood, and in you – gathered in His name: “Where two or more are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” God is here, all around – just as wondrously as He was on that day of Transfiguration. Just as Abraham offered sacrifice on the mountaintop altar – we too will offer sacrifice on our altar – and God will be here in our midst – just as dazzlingly transformed as He was on the mountain.

God draws us near during this Lent so that we can become people renewed in Him; in His Word; in His Sacrament; in His Love – so that when our time comes to leave the mountain and return to the world we will truly be His people and His presence in the world. There’s a saying among the Baptists, “Did you know that you have been saved? Please, inform your face.”

Lord Jesus we thank you and praise you for visiting us on this mountain today. “It is so very good that we are here.” Let us be strengthened and renewed by the joy of this Lenten season so that we can overcome our sin, turn to You, and truly be transformed and transfigured into Your people and Your presence in the world.

May God give us His joy and His peace.

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