2nd Sunday of Lent

The power of story to engage both mind and imagination is a literary form that has survived the test of time. Story also have the capacity to resonate with people today as we live in what might be classes as a ‘new age’. Scratch the surface of any generation and we discover that no age is ‘new’. Deep within the human psyche, we respond emotionally to life’s challenges and experiences in exactly the same way as our fore-parents, and our ancestors from the far distant past.

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To crack three ‘old stories’ into the mixing bowl and wonder what emerges, whets the imagination. From the scripture of the first two Sundays of Lent we are asked to find nourishment from the: Temptations in the Desert, the Sacrificial Offering of Abraham’s son Isaac and the Transfiguration.

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 I happened to be in the city during the week, and in ways it felt like a ‘desert experience’ devoid of the hustle and bustle of people. The thought occurred to me that unlike people presently being forced to isolate, Jesus freely and willingly went into the desert. He chose to subject himself to a raw existence for 40 days, devoid of small comforts except the dubious comfort of temptation. This desolate experience for him was to be a foretaste of the desolation he had to endure in the garden of Gethsemane and on Mount Calvary. The only thread that kept his spirit buoyant was a tenuous but adequate trust that, as was the case in the desert:

‘the Father’ was with him.

 I was thinking of how so many of our people over the past year, have had to endure the self-same raw isolation in nursing homes, ICU, denied the comforting presence of family and loved ones. The same has been the case for their family members, desperately desiring to reach out and physically touch their stricken parent, partner or sibling. The only source of solace available is a hope that the resident will draw some comfort from the enduring power of that same love.

Perhaps this is the meaning behind the first reading from Genesis which on the surface seems nothing short of scandalous. To think that Divinity would ever remotely sanction the sacrifice of a son, is revolting. {This same thought challenges our understanding of why Christ died for us. Did our Heavenly Father deliberately send his Son to be crucified or was it that while faithfully proclaiming the Gospel his adversaries put him to death!}. Abraham, who within the tradition is referred to as the ‘the Father of Faith’, trusted in this God to a degree that transgresses the inclinations of any normal father. Yet in the end that trust was warranted. It’s a story that draws on a degree of literary licence, even though it’s a narrative that grates with human decency in any shape or form. I’m reminded of a short novel; Night, written by Eli Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor. In the novel, God is put in the dock, and asked to defend himself from crimes against humanity. There is one utterly horrific account of three prisoners in the camp being executed by hanging, while the remaining prisoners were forced to watch.

One of the prisoners was a young boy, and because of his size, death came more slowly. One prisoner angrily shouts out, ‘where is God now?’ There is silence. Eventually another voice is heard to say, ‘there he is hanging from the gallows’.

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To doggedly cling to a belief in the Goodness of God, is oftentimes the only shred of comfort available to people when every trace of hope seems to have disappeared.

On the cellar wall of a bombed-out house in Cologne an unknown fugitive, obviously Jewish, left a testimony of trust that only came to light when the rubble was being cleared away after World War II. It read:

“I believe in the sun even when it is not shining.

I believe in love even when I do not feel it.

I believe in God even when he is silent.”

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The first two stories from scripture are devoid of much joy, because of the pain endured in both cases. There is a sense of relief therefore to read of the three disciples climbing up a high mountain with Jesus and being bowled over by the sight of their friend, teacher and leader mysteriously entering a celestial bubble and engaging in conversation with two of its most decorated residents Elijah & Moses. Perhaps this profound experience was meant to sustain the disciples when dark clouds descended on a week, we call ‘Holy’. To have glimpsed the face of God, to have tasted the love of God, to have been freed by the grace of God is sufficient to mark us forever with faith, hope and love.