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Light in Lent

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Have you noticed that the days are growing longer? Not, as we might wish, in total hours per day; that’s still stuck at 24. However, we are at least getting a little more bang for our buck in the daylight department. Today the sun rose at an early 7:21 a.m. and won’t set until 6:34 p.m. In just ten days, for the second year now we’ll be returning to Daylight Savings Time and you can enjoy a late sunset at 7:45 p.m.

It seems fitting, then, that we’re also in the midst of Lent, a word which shares its roots in the word for “spring.” Lent was originally associated with the change of seasons from winter to spring, and particularly with the lengthening amount of sunlight in each day. Images of light and darkness are plentiful during Lent, with darkness getting one last try on Good Friday as Jesus hung dying on the cross. As you’ll hear in Luke’s gospel on Palm Sunday, “It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun” (Lk. 23:44-45).

This Sunday, however, we will hear of a moment when light takes center stage, when Jesus’ disciples get a sneak preview of the glory of the resurrection. On the second Sunday of Lent each year we hear the story of the Transfiguration, when Jesus, along with three of his disciples whom he has invited along, goes up a mountain to pray. Suddenly, Luke tells us, his appearance changed and “his clothes became dazzling white” (Lk. 9:29). Matthew’s gospel even says that “his face shone like the sun” (Mt. 17:2). The Transfiguration revealed that Jesus was God in an extraordinary way: God’s glory actually shone through Jesus’ physical body.

So why should we care about this reading? It’s sort of weird, really, describing as it does a sort of mystical experience Jesus shares with a few of his close followers. Well, let’s think about what we know about Jesus. He is God’s beloved son, sent to save the world and to lead us all back to the Father. He is not the kind of savior anyone would have ever expected. He is about to go to Jerusalem and experience an absolutely humiliating and painful death. And we know, as the disciples did not yet know, that Jesus rose from the dead to become the light no darkness can overcome. Every baptized Christian, then, as members of Christ’s body, shares in that light. During the season of Lent we prepare – again and again, because it’s the work of a lifetime – to renew our baptismal promises at Easter and to live out those promises in our lives.

Perhaps your mom used to tell you (as mine told me, and as I tell my own kids) that “no one can ‘make’ you do anything.” This universal “mom response” to kids brought to face the music – “I wasn’t going to do it, but he made me!” – has been repeated through so many places and generations because our parents, who love us, want us to become who God truly means us to be, not just to follow the crowd to the latest attraction or distraction. If we can imagine that God loves us even infinitely more than that, and wants us to become a part of the Body of Christ on earth, we can begin to understand why the story of the Transfiguration matters; why Lent matters. As the Transfiguration hints at, and the Resurrection tells us definitively, Jesus gives us the power to be light in darkness, which no one can take away from us. Jesus uses the power of love, no matter what happens to him, to save the world, and he gives that to us as well.

During this Lent as the light begins to push back the night each morning and evening, try contributing your own light to the effort. Become the light of Christ wherever you find darkness in the world around you.

This week’s FaithPoint is written by Kate Barrett, director of resources and special projects in the Office of Campus Ministry. She can be reached at kbarrett@nd.edu

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.