In the second post of a series of Lenten reflections, Martin Eckersley considers the Transfiguration of the Lord.
Our Lord’s ministry is one of valleys and mountains. His ministry starts in the Judaean desert. Here we meet Jesus fighting against the temptations of the devil in a land scarred by gorges and hills. The sort of place in which it was easy for the devil to “lead [Jesus] to a height” and encourage him to “throw himself down”. His ministry will climax in a little less than five (liturgical) weeks, when Jesus is led to the heights of Calvary, where he will find himself mocked by the invitation to “come down from the cross!” But the Lord holds fast. He does not come down. He remains on the height of the Judaean desert, and he embraces his cross on the summit of Calvary. We might notice that enduring temptation and enduring suffering (which both these summits epitomise) is not a reality that our Lord seeks to escape from.
This Sunday, we follow Jesus as he invites his inner circle “up a mountain to pray.” By tradition, the mountain he climbed was Mount Tabor. And I’d like to think this is true, if for no other reason than Mount Tabor erupts out of the middle of a flat tract of land, and seemingly has some spectacular views of Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee. Standing at twice the height of Edinburgh’s Arthur’s Seat, it would have been a bit of trek for the apostles to reach the top. When they finally get there, however, they would not have been greeted with panoramic views, but rather with the sight of clouds and light. Christ’s divinity erupts from him, “brilliant as lightening,” and the apostles, already “heavy with sleep” from the demands of discipleship, find themselves face to face with the one who “gives them rest”. Having just fed the five thousand, the apostles, who found themselves “wearied with the feeding of the multitude,” are now restored by the mountain’s solitude; there, they see Christ who satisfies their soul. The reluctant question they must face is: Should we depart once again to labour and suffering? The temptation of Peter, James and John is to remain up on Mount Tabor and avoid the onward journey of discipleship. However, unlike the peaks of the Judaean desert, and unlike the summit of Calvary, this mountain is not one we are called to remain on. The restoration that takes place up the mountain, the faith and holiness which is inspired by the Transfiguration, is for us a necessary but temporary relief from the demands of discipleship.
It seems that the Church’s lectionary knows us all too well. Only one week into Lent and the Church offers us an experience up Mount Tabor. She encourages us to climb “up the mountain to pray” and to find there rest, renewal, and faith in the midst of our Lenten sacrifices. But we are called down from this mountain because the hill we are asked to climb remains ahead of us. Along our Lenten pilgrimage, we will need to climb the mountain to pray many times. We cannot follow Jesus without these ‘Mount Tabor’ moments. But let us do as the apostles did and “listen to him”. Over these next five weeks, let us listen to the Word of Christ in the scriptures, in the liturgy and in the Church. And with his voice before us, let us then follow our Lord to the mountain of ultimate rest, renewal and faith – let us follow our Lord to Calvary!
Martin Eckersley is a seminarian of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh. He is in his fifth year of formation at the Pontifical Scots College in Rome.