The Three Peak Challenge

Last year a friend of mine is celebrated her 50th Birthday by attempting the Three Peaks Challenge. That is climbing Scafell Pike, Ben Nevis and Snowdon - the three highest mountains in England, Scotland and Wales -  in just 24 hours. You won’t be surprised to hear that I declined the invitation to join her. But I cannot avoid climbing mountains altogether – not, at least, in the Spiritual sense – because Holy Scripture is dominated by them. What follows then is a Three Peak Challenge which we must all face up to if, that is, we want to grow in Christian discipleship:

The First Peak we are called to ascend is Mount Moriah which Abraham climbs in order to make a much costlier Sacrifice than the ones he is called to make in today’s First Reading. Imagine, then, Abraham’s arduous, agonizing ascent, as he takes with him his beloved Isaac, his only son whom God had promised him, and whom he is now required to offer back to God in sacrifice.  Yet in climbing Mount Moriah, Abraham’s doubts and fears are conquered and his faith and trust in God is deepened. “Do not lay your hand on the boy.”  Says the angel of the Lord, just as Abraham raises his knife to kill Isaac. “For now I know that you fear God.” Abraham had to learn to trust that God is faithful to his word. And that is a lesson we must learn – to have faith and trust in the providence of God who never abandons us - even in our greatest agony and deepest sorrow. On Mount Moriah we learn the Virtue of Faith.

Our Second Peak is Mount Tabor, which Jesus climbs with his three closest friends. And on the mountain-top, Peter, James, and John are given a vision of the glory of God in Christ, in order to put Divine perspective into their lives and increase their longing for heaven. As we all know such transcendental moments are rare; yet when we experience the Presence of God - we too, like Peter, want to hold onto the moment - and wish it would never end. Such moments are like being on the summit of Tabor, and from that mountaintop we see in the distance the destination of our life's journey, which is to be raised to new life with Christ and enjoy eternal friendship with Him in heaven. On Mount Tabor we learn the Virtue of Hope.

The third and final peak we are called to ascend is by far the hardest: for it is the Hill of Calvary. Where Jesus mounts the Cross alone and is there raised up to draw all to himself. And we are called to take up our cross and follow Him. To endure the hard climb, one that involves sacrifice, and which both wounds and heals us. On this mountain we learn the virtue of charity, of unconditional love - a love which conquers selfishness and fear. At the top of this mountain we see God face to face in the crucified Christ and become partakers in His divine nature.

The contrast between this Peak and the last is striking:

On Tabor, Jesus is surrounded by a blinding light. On Calvary, He is engulfed by an overwhelming darkness.

On Tabor, Jesus is attended by Moses and Elijah, spiritual giants, who serve as guarantors of Divine authority and favour. On Calvary, He is flanked by two unnamed, common criminals.

On Tabor, The Voice of God is heard declaring: “This is my Son, the Chosen One, Listen to him.” On Calvary, God is silent, a silence broken by Christ’s despairing cry: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Tabor and Calvary are about a hundred miles apart. Separated then by Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem, and for us now by the Season of Lent. Today’s Gospel invites us to see Lent as a long journey between two great mountain tops. As we stand on the Mount of Transfiguration preparing to descend to the plain that lies between Tabor and Calvary.

What unites these two mountains, prefigured by the Sacrifice of Isaac on Mount Moriah, is the person of Jesus. The Body of Christ transfigured in light, offered in agony and raised in glory.  The Body of Christ, which, by virtue of our Baptism we are a part. The Body of Christ called to share in His Passion and Death

The Body of Christ called to glory to be with God for ever in the joy and peace of the Kingdom of Heaven.

And in order to live up to this calling we would do well to use the opportunities Lent brings through the personal disciplines of Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving and corporate acts of worship, study, devotion and charity such as, in this parish… participating in the daily Mass, the Lent Lectures and Lunches and Ecumenical Stations of the Cross.

That this Lent: both individually and together as the Body of Christ, we might live up to the Three Peak Challenge that Mounts Moriah, Tabor and Calvary represent, that is the call to grow in Faith, Hope and Love.


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