Easter begins something beyond human capacity

  • April 6, 2023

On the Second Sunday of Lent, the Gospel was the story of Christ’s transfiguration on a mountaintop. Only three men of faith — Peter, James and John — accompanied Jesus as He was transfigured between Moses and Elijah. The three disciples were ordered to tell no one of the event until after Christ’s resurrection.

Likewise, centuries earlier Moses had a transfiguration of a sort. When he came down from Mount Sinai after talking with God, his face was shining, and the Israelites were afraid to come near him. Each time Moses talked with God, he emerged with a face so brilliant that his face had to be veiled (Exodus 34:29-35).

After Christ’s transfiguration, everything returned to normal. Jesus walked among the people of Israel as a normal human, one who could be judged according to His words and actions. It would have been so much easier for the people if Jesus had remained transfigured. There would have been no doubt of His divine nature. Anyone with any sense would have recognized Him as God incarnate and followed Him.

But God doesn’t do our decision-making for us. He respects our freedom to choose Him or reject Him. Like it or not, the human ability to make free choices undetermined by previous events or our psychological makeup is our greatest dignity. If we make an act of faith by choosing to follow Jesus, life can go well for us. But it’s not as though that one choice determines everything that comes afterward. We can still make bad choices — choices which fail to embody the good — which undermine or destroy our relationship with God.

Faith gives us hope of sharing in God’s glory, of sharing in divine life itself. According to St. Paul, “hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). If we choose faith, we also have hope and love through the Holy Spirit.

However, our freedom also means we have the real possibility of turning our backs on God. The dignity of freedom includes the ability to disfigure our dignity either through totally rejecting God or by refusing to live in the fullness of His love even when we claim to be following Him. Our choices are real, and they have serious implications.

Although Moses was intimate with God, he never saw God’s face in this life. God would only allow Moses to see his back. This should not be seen as a deprivation but as an opportunity. When we follow someone, all that we see is that person’s back. As close as he was to God, Moses still was called to follow God.

This is what Lent should be about for us, a deepening of our willingness to follow God. The practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are important in themselves. But their main purpose is to lead us to recognize that God is God, and we are His creatures.

It is fitting that Lent concludes with Easter, the resurrection of Christ through which we are inaugurated into His divine life. In reality, Easter is not the end but the beginning of something beyond all human capacity. Because of Easter, the Spirit of God dwells in those who have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. We will experience our own transfiguration: “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Romans 8:11).

The Easter season continues what Lent has begun. It is a sad commentary that so often the devotion we have nurtured throughout the 40 days of Lent tails off through the 50 days of Easter. It is as though the Easter Vigil is not only the climax but also the conclusion of the period of deepening faith, hope and love.

Perhaps this is all too human. We revel in times of intensification of faith, but we can sustain the intensity for only so long. Yet we seek an eternity on top of the mountain. Our task in this world is to live as though we are almost already there. To do so takes perseverance, to always keep Jesus’ back in view. We define who we are by the choices we make. Why not opt for a life of following Jesus ever more closely?

(Glen Argan writes his online column Epiphany at https://glenargan.substack.com.) 

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