Blinding Light into Lent

February 15th, 2012

The harshest and most unwelcome light I can recall woke me up at 6 AM in Brownsville, TX during the mission trips on which my church sent the middle school youth group. Lights abruptly flipped on, my youth director's voice came crashing down upon our heads in the words of a too-cheerful song: "Rise, and shine, and give God the glory, glory!" That was quite a horrible and jarring way to wake up, and because of the early cataclysm it caused in my teenage psyche I will always love that song about Noah and the "arky arky." And I will always remember that wonderful unwelcome light.

On Transfiguration Sunday, we hear the voice of the Father speak out of a cloud: "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" This, as the Light of Jesus' divinity shines before Peter, James, John, and us, blinding.

The theme of light came before on Christmas Eve, as the Light of our God incarnate shone on a people in deep darkness. The Father's voice in Jesus' transfiguration bookends this theme of the light of the revelation of the Son of God, which also received an emphatic introduction in Jesus' baptism, when the Spirit descends and the Father's voice speaks: "This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased."

Transfiguration is the culmination and (temporary) end of this season of Light.

The light is not precisely gone. There is a light brighter even than the light of Jesus' transfiguration, a light which is the Church's sole reason for existing: the Light of Jesus' resurrection. But between the light of the Transfiguration and the light of the Resurrection there is a great chasm to be traversed.

This chasm we call Lent. Lent is a season of penance, fasting, and spiritual preparation for the feast of our Lord's resurrection. It seems the light of Christ's incarnation reveals much, too much, of us: it reveals the sins we would rather keep hidden, and it reveals the paths by which we avoid looking too closely at ourselves and our choices. Standing before the radiance of the Son of God, the ways in which we have become creatures of darkness are all the more clear.

And so we need Lent. We need the desert. We need the ashes on Ash Wednesday. We need the desolate places of the spiritual life, in order to journey from grace unto grace: from the grace of our creation, unto the double-grace of God's holy redemption.

So let us reach up, and let Jesus take us by the hand, and go where we do not wish to go. The desert beckons. The Spirit drives us out. And we will find, as we approach the terrible mystery of Good Friday, that even wandering in the desert, we are not without divine fire and cloud—just enough light—to guide us.

O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

[from The Book of Common Prayer]

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