Testing your memory: last Sunday in the first reading we heard of the covenant between God and Noah. Actually God makes this covenant with all the earth. God made a promise to never again destroy every living being by a great flood. The primordial waters of the chaos that existed before creation will never again threaten to inundate the world and wipe out creation. It was a great promise. And as a sign of that promise, that covenant, the Lord God placed His bow in the heavens. God told Noah: “When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will recall the covenant I have made between me and you and all living beings, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all mortal beings."
Have you seen a rainbow lately? Not a picture or drawing of one, but an actual, real, in the heavens rainbow? With the drought last year we didn’t see many rainbows. More recently, thanks be to God, we have. Rainbows are wonderful sights. They are magical. I don’t know if I could ever get tired of looking at rainbows. They still thrill me. The rainbow is a wonderful sign of God’s covenant with the earth. Rainbows are great. We’ll come back to it later, but for now let’s put the rainbow right over here.
In today’s first reading we hear of another covenant, this time between God and Abraham. After Abraham proves his faith, even to offering up his son Isaac, God states: "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your beloved son, I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore;”
Last Fall I had the great privilege of visiting the McDonald Observatory in West Texas. Accidentally but most fortuitously I was there on a clear, moonless night. The sight of the stars was breathtaking. I had not seen stars like that since I was a boy at Scout camp in rural Missouri. It was gorgeous. The Milky-Way was clearly visible, and it was just fantastic. You cannot see this in a city. Have you ever seen stars like that?
When God tells Abraham that “I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless at the stars of the sky” God is saying something impressive, magnificent. Abraham will have countless descendants. And according to St. Paul, because of faith, we are Abraham’s descendants.
We are as countless as the stars of the sky. Another wonderful sign of God’s commitment! Let’s put that magnificent sight of the starry night over here for now, and come back to it later.
In today’s Gospel Jesus is transfigured before Peter, James and John. Some of Jesus’ glory as the Christ begins to show through. “His clothes became dazzling white.” Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, …. Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice, "This is my beloved Son.” In other words, God is giving us His most precious treasure, His heart. God tells us: “Listen to him." Quite a scene, isn’t it?
God again takes the initiative like He did with Noah, with Abraham, and now with Peter, James and John. God reveals His Son, and also commits His Son to them, and to us. In telling us to “Listen to Him” God the Father is also giving His beloved Son to us to be our Savior and Lord. It is a solemn and very marvelous occasion.
Just as the covenant with Noah had a sign - the beautiful rainbow, and the covenant with Abraham had a sign - the magnificent starry night, so too this new covenant has a sign. The sign of this covenant is even more beautiful, more wonderful, more spectacular than the previous covenants, just as this covenant is more beautiful, more wonderful and more magnificent. But it is temporarily hidden.
On coming down the mountain Jesus “charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” For the sign of this covenant, the gift of God’s only Son for our redemption, is nothing less than the Resurrection of Jesus.
The beautiful rainbow, the magnificent starry night, and the glorious Resurrection of the Lord: three wonderful signs of the Lord God’s commitment to us: to you and to me. When God makes a promise, God always makes a whopper. And God always does it up right.
In this Lent we strive to commit ourselves more and more to the Lord Jesus Christ. (That is the significance or gist of the Rite of Reconciliation we are celebrating this morning with the RCIA candidates, as they – and we, strive to follow Christ more closely.)
But we always do this in response to God’s commitment, to God binding God’s-self to us first. The initiative always comes from God.
God has given us such wonderful signs of God’s covenanted love for us: the beautiful rainbow, the magnificent starry night, and the glorious Resurrection of His Beloved Son. The Church calls these signs to mind for us at the beginning of Lent to entice us, to allure us, to open us up to the God Who has so marvelously covenanted God’s own self to us - so that we may respond in kind, giving ourselves ever more and more to God.
The beautiful rainbow, the magnificent starry night, and the glorious Resurrection invite us into a deeper and fuller relationship with the God who gives us Himself.