J. Peter Holmes: Listen to Jesus

On the Sunday prior to Lent, Christians around the world turn to the story of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration in order to prepare for the journey towards Jerusalem and the Passion of Christ. When Jesus comes down from the Mount of Transfiguration, he consciously turns away from Galilee and towards Jerusalem knowing full well that the cross lies at the end of the road. There is a valley ahead - the valley of the shadow of death for Jesus - and he has come to walk it with us and for us so that when our low points come, we will know that we are not alone.

However, first he takes the inner circle of his followers up the Mount of Transfiguration to impress upon them the great reality of God’s love and light that transcends the troubles of this world.

While praying on the mountain with Jesus, the three disciples witnessed Jesus take on a dazzling glow from head to toe. As he prayed, Jesus was communing not just with God the Father, but also with Moses and Elijah. It was as if the whole of the law and the prophets had come alive to point to Jesus. And if we miss the point as Peter seemed to, God the Father himself spoke to the moment when he said, “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him.”

Listen to Jesus. Lent is a time to tune our hearts afresh to Jesus Christ - to intentionally set aside anything that is distracting us from hearing the voice of Jesus. It is so easy to be distracted. Even Peter was distracted with Jesus aglow before his eyes. When he saw Moses and Elijah with Jesus he said, “It is so good to be here Lord, let us build three tabernacles or monuments - one for Moses, one for Elijah, and one for you.” But before we jump all over Peter, let’s ask ourselves what we would have done. Monuments to the prophets? We’d be taking selfies, posting them to social media and constantly checking to see how many likes we are getting; e-monuments - electronic ego monuments! But then it was as if Peter suddenly lost reception and they were all in the dark - and the cloud lifted and all that remained was Jesus. At the end of the day, he is what it is all about. And the Father said, “This is my Son, put away your phone, stop looking at your watch, and listen to him.”

Historically, Lent has often been a season of fasting. I was on a Lenten retreat several years ago at a convent where we ate together, but we were not allowed to talk during the meals. Perhaps in those years of fasting, the secondary effect was the elimination of idle chit chat and gossip that might often take place at a dinner table. Not talking was strange, or was it? So often we just eat and run without real conversation, or we sit down in front of the TV with our plate of food; and there is some good TV - but there’s a lot of trash, too. In no time we are changing channels every few seconds. And then there is the internet where we can too soon be lost down a rabbit hole full of half-truths fueling bigotry and hatred. Even at its best we can soon find ourselves drowning in information and opinions wondering with T. S. Eliot, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

I have been told by many people that they no longer even read or watch the news, and that is not good news. But then, just when we too are giving up on the news, a new story breaks and we can’t stop watching, whether it was January 6, 2021, or Russia invading Ukraine in 2022, or the election of a speaker in the House of Representatives, or the Freedom Convoy in my own country where truckers and others disgruntled with the COVID policies of the Canadian government descended on Ottawa from near and far and surrounded the parliament buildings with their trucks and rigs and clogged the downtown streets of Ottawa for weeks, during which time their horns were blaring incessantly. And so often the most upsetting things are fueled by misinformation and hatred on the internet, but above all those horns there is another voice, “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him.”

As I listened to the protestors honking their horns in Ottawa and the public in turn complaining, I heard a CBC radio interview with Dr. Andrea McCrady, the carillonneur of the Peace tower bells in Ottawa. “What has it been like playing the bells with all the horns honking?” she was asked. “Challenging, to say the least, but my life as carillonneur has been accompanied by lots of noise on the hill, protests, celebrations, and lots of construction noise; so, I deal with it.” She deals with all the noise pollution by giving voice to the bells every day. Bells weigh hundreds and some even many thousands of pounds and when properly cast, hold their tune for a thousand years. She was playing them during the occupation of the Freedom Convoy with horns constantly blaring, and I couldn’t help but wonder what the impact and impression was on those honking their horns when they heard the sound of the magnificent bells offered with their true notes. Bells are the true symbol of freedom - not horns. But did anyone listen?

There is so much noise pollution within the streets and within our souls, and so many voices telling us to do this or buy that, but in the midst, there is also a voice that is the Way, the Truth, and the Life of freedom and love. The Father said, “This is my Son. Listen to him.” This is a time to stop blowing our own horns, or honking in anger, or being sucked down the rabbit hole chasing silly distractions, and instead Stop and Listen to Jesus. He is always with us, but if we don’t turn to the word and sit still and listen, we may not hear his voice, and we may begin to wonder if he is here at all - but oh, he is. Listen to him, and what wisdom there is in his love and forgiveness, his mercy and grace, his faith and hope.

One of the things that Dr. McCrady said in the CBC interview was that she had learned to play the instrument at university, but had gone on to pursue another career, but then it was on a diverted flight during the 9/11 attacks that caused her to rethink her life. It was as if the bells were calling her to something higher. Lent is a time to divert our path, step back and listen for the sound of the bells calling us to something higher; to listen for the voice of Jesus.

If we are serious about listening to Jesus, we have to follow him down from the mountain and on through the low points of the valley. But as we do, we will come to see ourselves, our neighbors, and the world differently. As we truly listen to Jesus, we will begin to see ourselves and the world as he does.

There was once an artist who came to a town and set up his paints and brushes on the outside of a run-down building and began to paint a mural. Curious people gathered to watch and as they did, he began to paint them into the mural. But when he did, he didn’t paint them as they appeared to everyone else and even to themselves. There was a young girl who had been using crutches for much of her life, “Poor girl,” everyone would say, but when the artist painted her, it was on a stage as a concert violinist. There was a woman who sat on the edge by herself - seemingly a social cripple lacking in confidence to say the least, but in the painting there she was, but now in the center of the picture as a community leader. There was an African Canadian who was the superintendent of the building the artist was painting his mural on. The super had been there ever since he had arrived in Canada. It was all he had ever been, as far as anyone knew, but the artist painted him as a surgeon in an operating room. And then there was the Indigenous teen who no one gave the time of day to, but the artist gave her one of his brushes and she started to paint as he did. Who knew she could paint? He did, just as he seemed to know that the building superintendent had been a highly esteemed surgeon in his home country, but here he had been put in a box. The young girl took up the violin and sure enough became a star performer. The artist saw potentialities in people that no one else had dreamed of and when they saw themselves and others through his eyes, they started to become the people he painted them to be. Does it ring a bell? It’s just like Jesus.

But there were some who saw Jesus as nothing more than a graffiti artist operating without a permit. There may be things in his mural we don’t want to see either. He wants us to love our enemies, and come what may, he is not giving up. He is heading straight for Jerusalem. And just as he had predicted, he is going to be arrested, beaten and crucified unjustly. He is going to Jerusalem to die for the sins of the world and to conquer death, so his vision of a better world where love and forgiveness, healing and hope and peace, yes peace, are the rule of the day; a world where something even as ugly as a cross, the instrument of torture and death, can become the greatest symbol of hope and healing ever known.

And when we listen to Jesus, we will find ourselves in the power of the Holy Spirit looking at ourselves and others and the world as Jesus does, with the eyes of faith, hope, and love - never giving up on his transforming power. And yet, as I say that, bombs are dropping in Ukraine, warfare rages, climate changes, refugees are fleeing by the millions. But now is the time to listen. Jesus told the disciples there would be injustice and hatred and fear and that he would even be crucified. But neither bombs, nor pollution, nor warfare, nor famine, nor injustice, nor hatred will have the last word. Lent and Holy Week and suffering may all lie ahead, but this is a Sunday and it is already Easter. Christ is alive! So, let us stay close to Jesus, listen to him and let his vision guide our hearts and our steps.

Let us pray.

Gracious God, give us ears to hear the voice of Jesus and grant us the grace to follow. In the name of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.