The Children of Israel crossing the Red Sea, Frédéric Schopin (1804–1880), c.1855; Bristol Museum & Art Gallery

Fr Neil’s homily for the Second Sunday of Lent, 13 March 2022

Two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.¹

One of the fundamental questions that we ask ourselves as human beings is: ‘What is my purpose in life?’, or we might rephrase it to ‘what is my mission?’ This is an important question to ask, but if we are to begin to answer it we have to first ask ‘Who am I?’ Knowing who we are will better inform the question, ‘what is my mission?’

At Christ’s baptism, the voice of the Father declares to him “You are my Son, the beloved.” As the Son of God, called to be the anointed one, he is able to resist the temptations of the devil and walk the way set before him by the Father. His baptism takes place at the Jordan, where the Exodus led by Moses comes to its end. This place marked the beginning of his public ministry, and points to a second exodus.

Only in Luke’s account do we get an inside view on what Moses and Elijah were speaking to Christ about at the transfiguration. They spoke of his ‘passing’ or ‘departure’. The Greek word used here, however, is εξοδος — literally and better translated as exodus. Christ was going to accomplish a second exodus at Jerusalem. Knowing that he was Son of God and anointed messiah, reaffirmed by the Father again, here he unfolds the purpose of his mission to the disciples.

The idea of an Exodus story seems to be written into our human thinking. The themes of captivity, freedom, justice rooted in a moral code, and a movement towards a land flowing with milk and honey, plays itself out in most of our lives. The exodus is experienced and longed for, consciously or not. Movements between lands, schools, jobs, friendships, families, and marriages all carry something of the rhythm of exodus and the longing for a space of unitive love.

These mini journeys take their shape and meaning from the three great exodus journeys decreed by the divine. Each flows from one and leads into the next, illuminating the divine will with ever greater clarity. Each carries the essential themes of liberty, justice, and a longing for a relationship with the Father.

Without the first great Exodus there would be no language and story of liberation from the house of bondage, no justice articulating right from wrong, no Israel. If there were no Jewish people, there would be no Christ. Without the first Exodus we cannot understand what Christ is doing and would be blind to the second exodus that he accomplishes.

The second great exodus is Christ’s mission. He takes on the form of a slave; like all humanity he enters into the temporal realm of sin and death, the Devil’s domain. Just as Israel went through the waters of death, portrayed by the Red Sea that swallowed up the Egyptians, so Christ embraces death on the cross. His rising on the third day and ascension into heaven marks his entry into his heavenly glory. He opens the way for the third great exodus.

That third great Exodus is our own spiritual journey from death to life. We are born into in a house of bondage, due to original sin. Our crying-out in faith to Christ brings the blood of the Lamb to cover us. As we enter death and rebirth through baptism, death passes over. We, by God’s grace, pass through the water so that we might become a part of the people of God. By offering our worship to God, and leading our lives by the church’s moral law, we are taking up the call to holiness so that we might be known as the people of God. Like the manna that fed the Israelites in the desert, we are fed on the bread from heaven in the form of the Eucharist, which is Christ our Lord. The Eucharist sustains us as the pilgrim people of God on the journey to that final entry, after our physical death, into the fulness of our heavenly homeland. That which we have glimpsed, touched, and tasted will be revealed in all its wonder in the company of Mary, the saints, and all the angels.

These three great Exoduses are essential to answer ‘who am I?’ and ‘what is my mission?’ We become aware that we are not the centre of our own stories, where everyone else is simply playing minor parts. Where “I” am the central protagonist, we play out what Bishop Robert Barron calls an ‘ego drama’², which always ends in disaster. An individual journey aimed at liberty marked by self-formed moral codes will always end in greater bondage. Rather than finding a greater abundance of life, we find death reigns. Putin might be a powerful example of this ‘ego drama’ played out on a grand scale.

What the exodus stories tell me is that I will only truly understand who I am if I realise that I am not the centre of the story, but a part of God’s story. My story then moves from ego drama to Theo-drama². The transfiguration reveals with dynamic clarity that Christ is the main protagonist of my story, defining the role I play and revealing my mission in life. Here we glimpse the divine nature of Christ while Moses and Elijah represent the story of salvation history — God’s purpose and will for us. Our lives are momentary stories written on a canvas that reaches from the beginning of Creation to the full appearance of the eternal heavenly glory.

Seeing the revelation of the Transfiguration shows me who Christ is and what his mission was. In the light of this story of God, there is revealed something about who I am and what my purpose is. We are the object of God’s desire who, in an act of utter love, reaches out to us in our house of bondage. The moral law of the Church is then not a new structure to be fought against, but the means of liberty and abundance of life. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit enables us to become temples for his presence, and a means of holiness and radiant light. In God’s story we are called to make a transformation, the science of the saints, reflecting the radiant light of Christ as we long for the full embrace of our Heavenly Father.

¹ Luke 9:30–31
² Barron, Bp Robert: interview with Robert Orlando reported by Joseph Serwach on 1 November 2019