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Change we should believe in

Kate Barrett | Wednesday, March 4, 2009

If you’re really lucky – or somewhat irresponsible – perhaps you’re reading today’s Observer on your way out of town. On your way home? On your way to someplace warm? On your way to someplace that should be warm but recently received 10″ of snow?

Maybe you’re here till tomorrow, or you’re here for the whole break. Whether you have to study, work, grade papers or exams … or if you’re fortunate enough to travel to Appalachia, New Orleans, Washington D.C., Coachella or Cancun, the week does feel like a break. It’s different. It marks the (more or less) halfway point of the semester and helps us turn the corner from winter to spring, from the starting point of the beginning of the semester to the finish line of finals and summer. No matter how you spend it, spring break refuses to be ignored. Spring break means change is on the way.

Cool coincidence, then, that every year the second Sunday of Lent, which happens to be this first Sunday of spring break, offers us an unusual, or some might say kind of weird, reading about … change. The second Sunday of Lent always proclaims the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration, this year from Mark’s Gospel (Mark 9:2-10; go ahead, look it up if you like). In each of the three “eyewitness” Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – we can find this event reported, and it always follows Jesus’ prediction that he will suffer and be crucified. The basics of the story go as follows: Jesus has invited Peter, James and John to come up Mount Tabor with him. Suddenly the disciples see what seems to be a vision: Jesus looks dazzlingly different, brilliantly lit, dressed in eye-popping white and conversing with two men whom the disciples would have immediately recognized: Moses and the prophet Elijah. Peter, befuddled, suggests that maybe they should just stay up there on a permanent basis. A cloud overshadows the scene, which for a Jew would instantly signify the presence of God. A voice from the cloud says, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

Now this story doesn’t mean a whole lot beyond its admittedly high “wow” factor unless we realize that it’s not about a change in how Jesus looks or acts. After all, he soon looks just like himself again, and he orders them not to tell anyone about the incident (a command he repeats, and which is usually ignored, throughout the Gospels). But God has given the three disciples the gift of a new understanding. Not only is Jesus now irrefutably linked to two central figures in Jewish salvation history, but God (in the cloud) has commanded respect for Jesus. The story doesn’t focus on the fact that Jesus has changed, but that now the disciples have the opportunity for change. They have seen a vision, and they can now see with new vision. Peter, James and John became transformed by a clearer understanding of Jesus’ whole identity and therefore a deeper sense of their own purpose as disciples.

This doesn’t mean they got it right away. As they came back down the mountain, Peter, James and John remained confused (in Mark’s Gospel, the disciples are confused a good bit of the time). But events like the Transfiguration peel away layer upon layer from their hearts and minds until with the grace of the Holy Spirit they have gradually become able to follow with their whole lives the command of God, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

Just as the disciples needed moments of transfiguration in their lives to begin to comprehend both Jesus’ identity and their roles as disciples, we too can change if we will “listen to him.” The voice of God will become audible to us this Lent if we can approach our prayer, fasting and almsgiving as whole-hearted opportunities for our own transfiguration, our own “new vision” of Jesus Christ. Though we too may feel confused a good bit of the time, we can certainly believe that God wants us to have every chance possible to turn a new corner, to move from winter to spring in our lives of faith. As we prepare to approach Easter and come face to face with the heart of our salvation through Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection, we can see Christ at work anew in our lives. This week and each week that follows will bring change, growth and signs of new life. It’s spring. Listen to him!

This week’s Faithpoint is written by Kate Barrett. Kate Barrett is the

director of the Emmaus program in Campus Ministry. She can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.