Now let us do this little at the beginning of our Lent, that we strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during the Lenten fast.
Aelfric (c955-1020 CE), Lives of the Saints
The dreary month of February will be a busy one in the life of the church. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, February 13, and continues 40 days (excluding Sundays) until Easter. Lent, the seasonal name derived from the Anglo-Saxon lencten which means spring, began as a time of fasting and preparation for baptism of converts on Easter. It has become a time of penance where wordly practices are sacrificed in favor of increased prayer and contemplation. While the season is a somber one, the Sundays in Lent are not Sundays of Lent. Although each may reflect some of the penitential tone of the season, the early church celebrated all Sundays as “little Easters.”
The Sunday prior to Ash Wednesday, February 10, is most definitely not somber! It is the Sunday which celebrates the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-43) during which Jesus is transfigured beside Moses and Elijah. Not surprisingly, Jesus's companions—Peter, James, and John—want to set up camp in this holy mountain, but very quickly a cloud engulfs them. It is only in the cloud that God speaks to them, declaring, as He did at the river Jordan, that their friend, their companion, was both human and divine. Further, in the midst of the cloud, and the confusion, God ordered these disciples to listen to Jesus.
Think about the disciples on the mountain: Peter, the rock, bold and stubborn; and James and John, the “sons of thunder” who likely earned that nickname. These are men who are accustomed to giving orders, to speaking their minds forcefully, but, in this instance, they are instructed to listen. For once, according to Scripture, they kept their mouths shut. But it wasn't until the next day that Jesus spoke, and it wasn't to them. It was to heal a demon-possessed boy. Scripture records that they were astounded at the greatness of God.
Really. The disciples who had seen Elijah and Moses with Jesus, the disciples who had heard God from the cloud, these disciples were “astounded at the greatness of God.” (Luke 9:43) They might have heard, but they certainly were not listening!
How often do we hear rather than listen intently? May we, during this Lenten season, repent of merely hearing and seek to listen intently to the voice of the Father.