Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain, just the four of them, and when they reached the summit, Jesus was transfigured before them. His garments became brilliant white. At the same time Elijah appeared on the scene with Moses. How did the apostles know it was Elijah and Moses? Without warning, the Apostles were in the middle of a truly hierarchical ‘Summit meeting’. St Mark tells us that they were terrified as though they had walked into a nightmare! Terrified of the unknown? How does one express terror to someone who has never experienced it? I wonder if their terror was as intense as the people trapped in the twin towers of 9/11, ….. trapped behind a wall of fire …. no way out! …. To jump or not to jump! Was that a similar experience for those trapped behind a wall of fire in the Grenfell Tower inferno? ….. no way out! Mentally paralysed by indecision! It’s no wonder that Peter started talking drivel! For those of us who have never experienced terror, we have to rely on our imagination to have some sense of the mental suffering, let alone physical suffering of the victims of these disasters. Frankly, it’s terrifying just watching the TV coverage of the Twin Towers and Grenfell Tower apocalypses. What is certain, is that Peter, James and John would never forget their frightening experience on the top of a mountain. The voice of God, … the glory of Jesus, … the validity of the law of God and the truth of the Prophets. Surely they will have realised who Jesus truly was!
And yet, practically daily, we witness at close hand, again through the lens of TV cameras, the terror etched on the faces of men and women in hospital beds who are suffering or recovering from the effects of the Covid virus! I know that such TV coverage of hospital patients is meant as a stark warning to the population at large of how serious and life-changing or life-ending this virus is, but the most striking aspect from my perspective is the stuttering effort made by patients in expressing their fear of both of what is happening to them and what the long-term effects on their personal wellbeing, including that of their close family, may be!
One aspect that appears to be lacking, at least I am not aware of it in the news media, is interviews with patients who have a strong sense of faith in God. Perhaps that is a deliberate policy on the part of TV producer’s, because people of faith also have the twin virtue of hope, and that powerful mix of faith and hope might lessen the impact of fear which may be the desired effect on viewers that the production staff intend. I am aware of the necessity for the public at large to follow medical guidelines to both control and by so doing reduce the spread of the virus, but the fact that the daily death-toll continues to rise, although slowing down, is prominent in every news bulletin, is, possibly, the most powerful warning of how dangerous this virus is to life and well-being without a word being spoken.
Faith is all its aspects is a discipline, and at times may seem contradictory, and there is no better example of such a possible contradiction than that illustrated in today’s reading from the Book of Genesis. It is the story of God testing Abrahams obedience. In his translation of the Bible, Nicholas King SJ, says that the story of Abraham and Isaac is the most chilling story of the entire Bible. As you know, God calls to Abraham, who immediately responds, only to hear God tell him ‘Take your beloved son Isaac, and go to the High Land, and offer him there as a whole burnt-offering!’ My answer would be ‘you must be joking, and I will not do it!’ But Abraham obeyed God, followed his instructions, and when he arrived at the High Ground, he built an altar, placed the wood on it, bound Isaac his son, and placed him on the altar on the top of the wood.’ I wonder what emotions Isaac must have been experiencing as he saw his father raise the knife to kill him! Your guess is as good as mine. We know that an angel stayed his hand, and Isaac lived. The message? God spared Isaac from a sacrificial death but didn’t spare Jesus his own Son from a sacrificial death.
Abraham had faith in God, even under duress, and on many occasions in life, it is our personal faith in God that helps us through difficulties. I’m sure the faith of many victims of the Corona Virus have placed their faith and trust in God and they will have been comforted by that faith. For Christians, death is the beginning of eternal life, sharing divinity with Christ. Surely that is nothing to be afraid of, rather the reward given us by a loving God.