Sunday, February 21, 2016

Castles in the Air–Bodies on the Cross


2nd Sunday of Lent (C)

Picture: cc THEMACGIRL

Sisters and brothers, I think you know what it means to build castles in the air, right? It’s to dream big dreams. To make great plans. To draw up grand schemes. Is there anything wrong with that? What do you think? According to the 19th Century American writer and poet, Henry David Thoreau, it’s actually okay to do this. Provided we don’t stop there. If you have built castles in the air, he writes, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. In other words, by all means build castles in the air if you wish. But don’t forget to also ground them in reality.

This is actually something that we all know quite well. At least in secular life. For example, we know that there’s no point in dreaming of a successful career, if we don’t work hard to make that dream come true. And there’s no use thinking about what course I want to study in the university, if I don’t make the effort to take and to pass the entrance exams.

Isn’t this the big difference between visionary leaders and lazy dreamers? Both have one thing in common. They are able to see what most other people don’t. An inspiring vision. Perhaps even an impossible dream. Visionary leaders and lazy dreamers both build castles in the air. At least in the beginning. What sets them apart is not so much what they see with their eyes and in their minds. But what they do with their hands and their feet. How willing and able they are to transform visions into reality. To transport castles from the air onto solid ground.

I mention this because, on this 2nd Sunday of Lent, our readings are full of people seeing glorious visions. In the first reading, God takes Abram out of his tent, and invites him to dream big. Look up to heaven and count the stars if you can. Such will be your descendants. For Abram, this is truly an incredible vision. An impossible dream. For, as you know, at this point in the story, both Abram and his wife Sarai are already very old. And still they remain childless. Yet God invites Abram to dare to dream of descendants as numerous as the stars.

In the gospel, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain, and shows them an awesome vision. Not only do Moses and Elijah appear in their heavenly glory. Jesus himself is transfigured before them. His face was changed and his clothing became brilliant as lightning. And it’s important for us to remember that this vision is not just about Jesus. It is also about the glory that we ourselves will share, as his disciples. As St. Paul reminds the Philippians in the second reading: For us, our homeland is in heaven, and from heaven comes the saviour we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body

The vision that the three disciples see on the mountain is the same one that Paul shares with the Philippians. It is the vision of our own heavenly destination. As daughters and sons of God. Adopted brothers and sisters of the Lord. We believe that a time will come when all of us will be transfigured, as Christ was. When all our sorrows will be removed. Our every tear wiped away. And peace and justice will reign over all the earth. This is the dream. This is our vision. And what a grand vision it is. Is it any wonder that Peter wants to pitch tents, and to remain on the mountain? So that he can keep enjoying the glorious sight?

And yet, Jesus doesn’t allow him to do so. Why? Isn’t it because, at this point in the story, the Transfiguration on the Mountain is still something of a castle in the air? A dream that needs to be made real. A promise that has to be fulfilled. Something more needs to be done. Jesus has to come down the Mountain of Transfiguration, in order to climb the Hill of Calvary. To be lifted up on the Cross on Friday. So as to be raised to life on Sunday.

This is what it will take to transport the dreamy castle in the air onto the solid ground of human reality. Just as in the first reading, Abram offers the broken bodies of various animals as a sign of the covenant between him and God. So too, in the gospel, God will offer the broken body of his only Son. To gather together all of us. God’s scattered and wayward children.

This is how the glorious dream of eternity becomes real in time. This is how ruptured relationships are healed. How a shattered world is made whole again. By bodies that allow themselves to be broken in the name and for the sake of love. This is what is meant in the gospel, when the voice from the cloud says: This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him. Listen to him, when he calls you to follow in his steps. Listen to him, when he invites you to walk the Way of the Cross. Listen to him, because this is the path to true and lasting glory…

And yet, my dear sisters and brothers, how many of us find this easy? How many of us have the courage truly to listen? Faithfully to follow? To forgive someone who has hurt us? To reach out to those who need us? To work for the benefit of those who cannot repay us? Are we not, instead, often sorely tempted to be like those people for whom Paul weeps in the second reading? I repeat it today with tears, he says, there are many who are behaving as enemies of the cross of Christ. They are destined to be lost. They make foods into their god and they are proudest of something they ought to think shameful; the things they think important are earthly things. People who spend their lives clothing their bodies in vanity. And padding their bank accounts out of greed. Rather than breaking themselves for love.

Isn’t this why we need this great Season of Lent? Through our penitential practices, we train our bodies. And we beg God’s grace. So that we can keep following Jesus to the Cross. And with him to have our hearts and our bodies broken in love. So that the dream can continue to be fulfilled. And our darkened world transfigured in glory.

Sisters and brothers, on this 2nd Sunday of Lent, what must we do to keep transporting castles in the air onto solid ground today?

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