Lest we think that Lenten discipline should begin easily and gradually build to climax, the Church sets the binding of Isaac before us on the second Sunday of Lent. Among the many “tests” to which God puts His faithful in Scripture, this is perhaps the most frightening. Nor does our reading from the Epistle mitigate its force. If St. Paul reminds us that God spared Abraham the task, the apostle does so to emphasize that God did not spare Himself, and so handed His own Son over for us all. Who can imagine the passions that surged forth when our father heard the voice of the angel? All that was lost is found, and found to be blessèd. And yet even the great waves of consolation that surged over Abraham are but tiny currents on the surface of his undisturbed, oceanic faith.
In the Gospel, Peter, James, and John are led, as Scripture says of Abraham, to a great “height.” Tradition identifies this mountain as Mount Tabor, a large mesa from which one could look over the great Esdraelon plain, the Lake of Galilee, and indeed the whole scene of Jesus’ public ministry. Christ is transfigured, and the writers of the Synoptics describe Him in terms reminiscent of Ezekiel’s vision at Chebar or Daniel’s vision of “one like a son of man.” The presence of Moses and Elijah is another clue to the otherworldly nature of this event. Moses, as we now know, was seen as a unique, almost angelic, being in the Judaism of Christ’s day, and Scripture tells is that Elijah did not die, but was rather taken up to paradise. The third indication of the otherworldly nature of the Transfiguration is the shining cloud that descends upon the scene and the heavenly voice that announces, “This is My beloved Son, In Whom I am well pleased.”
Why did Christ reveal His glory to Peter, James, and John at this point in His ministry? Surely to strengthen them for the trial that lay ahead. Christ reveals that He Himself is the Light, and the darkness of death cannot compass Him. This deep still light is the glory that the Son shared with the Father before the foundation of the world. The disciples, even St. Peter himself, will lose sight of this oceanic light, but in recollecting it, they will endure the most difficult trials as if they were entering paradise. Surely we, too, can be strengthened in our Lenten discipline if we walk with the Lord. Surely we will be strengthened if we remain awake. Surely God is with us. What cannot we do in His grace? Who indeed can be against us?