The season of Lent is almost upon us. The season of fasting in order to prepare for the joy of Easter follows Ash Wednesday, a day where ashes are imposed on a believer’s forehead with the words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” are spoken. It is a moment of abject mortality meant to being a time of self-examination and repentance, of prayer and fasting and self-denial, and of reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.¹
The Sunday before Lent, yesterday, was Transfiguration Sunday, a day where Christians revisit the time Jesus spent on the mountain with Peter, James, and John while in the presence of Moses and Elijah. On this day, Christians pray that God might “grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory.”
And so the road to Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season begins atop a mountain, with a moment that echoes Moses and points to the crucifixion and beyond. In his thoughts on the day, N. T. Wright sees it as “one last breath before the plunge.” From his Twelve Months of Sundays, where he weaves together Exodus 24, 2 Peter 1, and Matthew 17:
The mountain, the glory, the fear. The old story thunders around the crags of scripture, and we hear it echoing from every side, rolling on down the valleys. Moses on the mountain with God. Joshua (‘ Jesus’ in Greek) there with him. Jesus on the mountain with Moses and Elijah. Peter on the mountain with Jesus and Moses and Elijah. We beheld his glory, as of God’s only son. The prophetic word made more sure. The cloud and the fire. The booths in the wilderness. No one has seen God; this one has revealed him. Whatever else it means, it means we have to listen to the thunder and ponder what it says. Peter implies that the way to faith is to hold firm to the great old stories, and treat them with the respect they deserve. They are a candle to see you through the night; attention to them will be rewarded as day breaks (always slightly later than you thought, or wanted) and the morning star rises in your hearts. Eager for the day, we often spurn the candle, and wonder why we bump into things while waiting for light to dawn.
The Israelites saw the cloud and fire. Aaron saw it. And yet … Peter saw Jesus’ face shine like the sun. He heard the words. And yet … Memory is a great antidote to temptation. Whatever mountain you have to climb in the coming forty days, whatever words you have to hear, remember where you came from and where you are going. Remember how the thunder sounded. Remember what you saw in the candle’s flickering light.
Wright assumes, of course, that believers will take the next forty days seriously, and that even if they don’t, temptation will still be a clear and present danger. And so remember, he suggests. Remember what you saw and heard on the mountaintop. Good advice for the road forward.
(image from gettyimages.com)
¹ Quote and language of the first two paragraphs from the Book of Common Prayer.