A year ago today, I was preparing to bid farewell to Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
Among the last stops on our ten-day pilgrimage: The Western (or Wailing) Wall of the Second Temple. As we made our way around the site, an untidy scene caught my eye – the rubble remains of what had once been one of the world’s most spectacular buildings.
It seemed as though I could feel the violence and the heartbreak in the ragged pile of hewn stone, all-come-tumbling-down. Vicious Roman soldiers had left an unmistakable signature there in 70 AD – one that has provided a cold comfort to pilgrims and visitors in every century since.
Yet it seems to me this heap of wreckage offers a suitable point for meditation on the Second Sunday of Lent – the day on which we hear a gospel account of glory: Jesus’ transfiguration.
…his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.
Not surprisingly, the witnesses – Peter, James and John – are inclined to linger. They want to keep basking in the brilliant light…and add at least a touch of permanence to the scene:
“Lord, it is good that we are here,” [Peter says]. “If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
Jesus will have none of it, of course. It’s “wheels-up” for him, almost as soon as the sacred cloud clears. He leads the trio away from the mountain…and begins preparing them for the hard duty, the valley duty, that lies ahead.
I was reminded of that inevitable movement – the pilgrim’s progress – earlier this week when I had occasion to attend a funeral at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.
We were saying farewell to Rachel Lozano, a 36-year-old woman whose extraordinary life of witness touched far more than the 1,000+ people who attended her Mass and celebration that day. (You can read Rachel’s remarkable story here, in the text of the eulogy provided by her husband Gabe.)
Afterwards, I spent a little time reflecting on the place where we’d said our farewells: the richly-appointed Romanesque structure, famous ‘round the world for its spectacular installations of Byzantine-style mosaics.
It’s an impressive building – with a heft and beauty to rival perhaps even the Second Temple in Jerusalem back in its heyday.
It’s a far better thing to keep our “wheels up”…to keep moving alongside Jesus…and – as St. Paul exhorts us in the second reading – to keep our pilgrims’ eyes trained on a heavenly promise:
…the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began, [and] now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.