Author: Fr. Michael Byron
March 17, 2019

I presume that most of us are people who pray, at least now and then.  We’re doing so right now, and hopefully that carries over in to a pattern of personal prayer beyond this building—something more personal.  So it may be helpful to pose the question—basic as it is—what is “prayer”?  What do we think we’re doing when we step away from our busy lives and routines and spend some time deliberately focused on God?  That question is especially appropriate at this time of year, this new season of Lent, in which our religion tells us to be especially dedicated to the disciples of “prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.”  It’s pretty easy to understand when and how I’ve accomplished those last two things—or have failed to.  But how do I know when I’ve been successful at praying?  What is it that I will have done, or what is the experience I will have had?  What is “prayer”?

In today’s Gospel of Luke, this whole grand drama of the transfiguration of Jesus on the top of the mountain—the cloud, the voice, the vision, the glory—it all happens, we are told, as Jesus was praying.  He wasn’t at Sabbath worship in the synagogue with his community.  This was personal prayer—alone time with God, with a few of his friends looking on.  And there’s no suggestion here that he was meditating on Sacred Scripture or reciting “Our Fathers” or any other kind of rote formula prayers.  So what exactly did Jesus think he was doing up there?  What is “prayer”?

He was remembering.  He was remembering.  Not only in the sense of calling to mind things that happened in the past.  That’s only a part of what it means to remember.  To remember is also to be freshly aware of one’s most true and basic identity—who we are at the core.  And that, in turn, requires remembering those to who we are essentially related—not by our own choice but by the very fact of our existence.  That’s part of remembering too.

And to remember is to rededicate ourselves to our life responsibilities and commitments because of those other memories.  It is to focus again on what really matters in the daily decisions we make about how to live.  That’s what it is to remember.  I’d suggest as well, that’s what it is to pray.  Prayer doesn’t have to look like any one thing, but it must call us to remember, in every sense of that word.  

There on top of Mount Tabor in Galilee, Jesus was remembering.  He was remembering those solemn words spoken at his baptism, the voice from heaven at the Jordan River saying, “You are my son, in you I am well pleased.”  Luke tells us about it in the previous chapter.  He was remembering who he was, and with whom he was in relationship:  God.  And he was remembering what all of that would require of him.  We are told that he was speaking with Moses and Elijah, those patriarchs of long-ago memory, speaking about “his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.”  For St. Luke, the word Jerusalem is code for “suffering and death.”

Jesus was remembering that he had to get to Jerusalem.  Even when everybody else tried to prevent that or talk him out of it—beginning with his three friends Peter, James, and John right at moment who proposed just staying right where they were.  Jesus was remembering his purpose, his basic commitment in life, and his destiny.  And so he was remembering what he had to do next, i.e. come down from the mountaintop and start moving toward his fate, starting immediately.  Jesus was praying.  

It is no accident that every time we gather for Eucharist here we engage in the very same rich act of remembering.  That’s what it’s all about.  We remember the people and promises and events of long ago as we listen to the Sacred Scripture.  We remember who we now are and to whom we are related as we converse and commune with God.  And one another.  And we remember what is expected of us—required of us—as the result of all that, our most basic purpose and mission, and our destiny…the pouring out of ourselves in service—unto death.  

Of course it doesn’t end in death, either for Jesus or for us.  The end is on the other side of death.  The end is endless—eternal glory in the life of God.  That’s why the transfiguration vision has to be part of the remembering too.  We will all be back on the mountain top with the Lord again someday, but not yet.  For the moment, in our praying, we remember.  So there’s a lot more going on in our worship than merely “getting to church,” at least if we are thoughtful about what we are doing.

And the same ought to be true of our personal prayers.  Whether that be through mediation or bible reading or rote prayers or rosaries or devotions, at the bottom of it all let them all lead us to remembering, to true prayer.


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