Winter’s white wrapped New England in a sparkling mantle through February. Glittering under street lights and lingering on rooftops, snow has given way now to a taste of Spring. Newsfeeds are still devoured by bitter politicking, violence and disorder. Vaccines have been rolled out, and a nation has been energized by the idea that, once again, human innovation, competition and courage have combined to overcome what once appered to be an insurmountable crisis. Ironically, this success does not rest in the hands of leaders or politicians or even the scientists. Each of those definitely has a part, a role, a place; success belongs to the individuals who have mobilized to make it work. At a local pharmacy, a tired and incredibly competent team was vaccinating 50 people an hour. There was patience with questions and quirks, and care in explanations and recommendations. If this was a war, that staff was the foot soldiers. Suddenly, the Congressional bickering and high profile bitterness was silenced by individuals making it happen. One nurse commented that giving the vaccines was the privilege of his career; another said how happy he was to help. This is who we are and what we are about and it all links to Lent.
On this Second Sunday of Lent, that ability to be present, to choose to listen and make a difference is woven through the readings. We are seeing it happen all around us now, and we can hear in stories thousands of years old that this is part of what it means to be human. Each of the readings touch on a different dimension of that reality. Abraham’s voice in the Old Testament reading is rich: “Here I am, Lord!” That moment, that response is ours to share. The passage highlights a test of fidelity, asking an impossible offering: Abraham is to slay his son Isaac at God’s request. God rescinds the request, and a lamb is offered. Its graphic nature has been intensely analyzed, dissected, and interpreted. But the essence of it comes down to Abraham’s singular response, “Here I am…” Today, so many medical professionals and volunteers are willing to say, “Here I am..” and begin to turn back the tidal wave of COVID.
The Responsorial Psalm captures relationship as well: “I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living.” To respond to god, to meet the demand, is to walk hand in hand with God, to celebrate life and those first signs of spring as well as the winter’s wonders. Being human is about being in relationships with purpose and conviction, with kindness and caring. Faith and freedom can be found in the sense that God really IS in relationship with humanity. The Second Reading from the Letters of Paul presents a powerful phrase. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” In the arena of scholarship, this has known many interpretations. Maybe the key thing for 2021 is to consider it most simply: God is present. We can respond, “Here I am…”, and we can believe that God practices the most tender presence. That bond is built to enable us to move forward, to continue to grow. All of that is epitomized in the Gospel of Mark story. Jesus in transfigured into that sparkling white figure, joined by Moses and Elijah. The disciples wish to preserve the moment and advocate the building of tents, establishing homes. Then the words come, “This is my Beloved Son. Listen to him.” And everything comes back to the vitality of the exchange, the meaning of the relationship, the speaking and listening and living. Nothing happens without that.
Mindful of who we are and where we are in this world in this second week of Lent, we can form and nurture and refine the ability to listen, really listen, and to speak, really speak, so that we can act freely and justly. To do so is to make the world a better place than it was before. Like the nurses administering vaccines, this is the real privilege of our lives.