Second Sunday of Lent – Year C
[Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 9: 28b-36]
In the early hours of this morning, we entered Daylight Savings Time as our clocks were moved ahead one hour. I realize that there is debate and disagreement about the merits of maintaining the practice of shifting time by an hour in the fall and spring, but what we can all agree upon is its impact upon our sleep. Perhaps it isn’t such a bad idea after all when in the fall we get to sleep in, but second thoughts might come our way when we lose an hour of sleep, as has happened today. Slumber is good; losing sleep is not.
Our world has been losing a lot of sleep for a long time now, due to the advance not of the clock but of fear. We perhaps know from personal experience that loss of sleep is often associated with anxiety. When we are worrying about things, we shall often wake up in the middle of the night and then find it very hard to get back to sleep as thoughts, concerns, and possibilities invade our minds. Well, consider all that the world has endured over the last couple of years – the pandemic, societal unrest, economic uncertainty, loss of trust in authority, and now the war in Ukraine. Anxiety abounds. Although some people may still get the requisite eight hours of sleep, nevertheless I believe it true to say that we are collectively weighed down with fatigue. This is due, I suggest, to the futility we experience in the face of events beyond our control, and the emotional and nervous exhaustion that inevitably ensues from that. Often, we hear people say, and frequently we say ourselves: “I’m just tired of all this!”
Let’s turn now to the Gospel text from St. Luke to learn how the Word of God is speaking to our situation. If, first, we direct our attention to what we are told about the apostles, we hear that they are exhausted, “weighed down with sleep”. We also learn, though, that “they had stayed awake”, a phrase that suggests effort on their part to rouse themselves from slumber. They fought off sleep, they didn’t let fatigue get the better of them, because they did not want to miss what was happening before their eyes. There is an implicit invitation here not to allow the fatigue weighing us down to prevent us from seeing, before our very eyes, what can lift us out of it and restore us to energizing hope.
We can summarize briefly what the apostles saw. Specifically, they saw the “glory” of Jesus, by which is meant that Jesus allowed them to see, shining forth through his human nature, his true identity as the Eternal Son of God. We refer to this as the Transfiguration of the Lord. Furthermore, they saw Moses and Elijah standing with Jesus, and heard them speaking with the Lord about his “exodus”, a term referring to his impending suffering, death and resurrection. After the voice from heaven confirmed the divine Sonship of Jesus, and commanded the apostles to listen to him, they then found themselves alone with the Lord. The point here is that, by not giving into the weight of fatigue, the apostles witnessed an extraordinary event that became for them and the whole Church an abiding source of strength and hope, especially in moments of exhaustion brought about by pain and suffering.
Here’s why. Countless generations prior to this event, God had made a promise to Abram to form from his descendants a people to be His own. We heard that in the first reading. Among the many ways God acted to fulfill that promise, He gave His people the Law, represented by Moses, and the prophets, represented by Elijah. Now, the apostles see and hear that God is doing something heretofore unimaginable to manifest His love for the people and demonstrate his fidelity toward them. He has sent them His Son, incarnate in Jesus. The disappearance of Moses and Elijah from the scene means that henceforth the apostles and the Church are now given everything in the person and in the words of Jesus Christ. This is why they – and we – are commanded from heaven to listen only to him. Jesus is all we need. He is our hope and strength, and he is with us. It is a good thing the apostles did not let fatigue get the better of them and miss out on that!
Neither do we want to allow the weight of our weariness, the burden of our anxiety, to prevent us from staying alert to the presence of Jesus in our midst. We know he is with us, in every moment and every circumstance of our lives, because he promised it. Although we do not have the privilege of the apostles to see Jesus with the eyes of our body, nevertheless we can recognize his presence by the eyes of faith. By deliberating choosing faith over fear, we rouse ourselves from the fatigue of anxiety to see how the Lord is acting to transfigure our lives, to change our lot, in accord with his great love for us. Furthermore, Jesus wants us to see this. What happened on Mount Tabor was at the Lord’s initiative, not that of the apostles. He deliberately led them to an awareness of his presence and power. He wants to do the same for us. Our current anxiety is exhausting, certainly, so let’s be careful to ensure that, by the act of faith, by listening to and believing the words of Jesus, we stay awake to the revelation of his presence and allow him to be our strength.
We have lost an hour of sleep by the advance of the clock. We lose much more when we yield to the advance of fear. As today we rouse ourselves by faith to recognize the presence of Jesus here in the Eucharist, let us yield instead to the advance of his love and thus live from the strength that that is found only in him.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
March 12th, 2022