Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday 14/2/21
If I was going to tell the story of the Transfiguration with Messy Church it would probably involve dressing someone up in a white sheet and shining a bright torch at it to light them up. A disembodied voice could then come from behind a door to say God’s words. I think creating a cloud may have to be omitted though, for health and safety reasons!
Children love stories, especially those they can act out a part in. They also have no problem in accepting what they hear and see.
Adults are not so easy to convince and the recounting of the Transfiguration is one of those times in the Gospels when we need a leap of faith and to just believe it. We can, however, delve a bit deeper into what is going on.
Jesus took the three disciples up a mountain. Going up a mountain was considered a way of getting closer to God in the Bible. And, before you dismiss this idea, think of all those people who travel miles to climb mountains in North Wales; to “find” themselves. They may not express this as finding God, but the idea that the top of a mountain is a special place, a thin place in the Celtic tradition, is a strong one.
Walking up a mountain is difficult, it requires effort and determination and puts you in the right frame of mind to be receptive: to listen to God’s word.
Sadly, this perhaps reminds us of our situation right now. We know that we can pray anywhere, but we all miss the opportunity to go into our churches, into God’s house, to worship and pray; the setting able to get us ready to receive God in word and sacrament.
Jesus only took three of his disciples. It could be argued that Peter, James and John were closest to him, the first ones he chose, and, as it will turn out, the last ones around at his end on earth. I wonder how the others felt? Did they feel left out or denied that closeness? For one, did it help build up the resentment, already simmering, which would lead to his betraying his Lord?
Sometimes we just have to accept that it is not our turn. God may have stuff for us to do, but not this time. That can be hard, but should not dampen our faith or enthusiasm for God’s work in the future.
So, at the top of the mountain Jesus was suddenly transformed, shining brightly, a glimpse of how he would appear in glory. And with him were Moses and Elijah. His three disciples, brought up in the Jewish faith, would not have missed the relevance of this. Moses represented the Law, Elijah the prophets. Both went up mountains to talk with God: Moses even shone so brightly after his encounters with God that he had to cover his face when he came down from the mountain, so people could look at him without hurting their eyes.
And there is Peter, the one who reminds me of me: The one who jumps in with both feet, often gets it wrong and, when frightened, feels a desperate need to fill the terrifying space with something, anything, to supply a bit of down to earth normality. During the Feast of Tabernacles, Jews built, and still do, booths. Peter’s suggestion is his attempt to do something appropriately reverent for the three great people he sees before him, but also something in his personal comfort zone. Don’t we all do that when we are scared?
God’s voice speaking from a cloud was also a familiar concept to them. This time it says “ This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him”
Jesus the Messiah is not the Messiah that the Jewish people had been expecting. The promised Messiah, for them, should have been a great King: someone powerful enough to rescue them from their enemies and captivity; at that time from Rome of course. They also expected a Messiah who was for them, for Israel, not for gentiles and certainly not for sinners. God had given them the Law and told them to follow it after all. Jesus was showing a totally different way and they could not get their heads around it. He was God’s new covenant, surpassing and supplanting the old. They were struggling to handle that idea.
This struggle must have been true for the disciples, however much they loved and followed Jesus. After all, they were denying their past and their upbringing to take this new way. And aren’t we just the same? Sometimes we cling to what we know even when we know it isn’t not right. We look at events in history and shudder: the slave trade, the exploitation of the earth’s resources and species, the unfairness of mill and mine owners in the 19th century. When our great grandchildren look at what happens in the world now, they may shudder at some of the things we do not question enough. Think about it.
So, after this amazing and surreal encounter, Jesus orders Peter, James and John not to tell anyone about what they had seen until AFTER THE SON OF MAN HAD RISEN FROM THE DEAD
The final hammer blow: The disciples have just witnessed a scene that they are finding difficult to take on board, now their beloved leader and friend is telling them that he is going to die and rise again. To be fair, Jesus has tried to tell them he must leave them before. They just can’t comprehend or accept it. If he is the Son of God he surely can live forever, nothing is beyond His reach. The next verse after this reading has them keeping it to themselves, as instructed, but questioning what rising from the dead could mean. They were familiar with everyone rising again on the last day, the day of reckoning, but not this.
Maybe the vision of Jesus in glory that they had just seen would help when they had to witness him crucified, dead and buried in the near future. It is something that we can think of as we start Lent next week and begin to study the harrowing journey to the Cross once again.
We can keep the vision of Christ in glory in mind to help us with the horror of what is to come.
Surely the most important thing in the account of the Transfiguration is God’s words though. Because he tells us, as he told the disciples, “Listen to Him”
Listen to Jesus, follow him, try to live as he did and behave to others as he did. God’s word is the vital element to this story in the Gospel and maybe, if we try to listen to Jesus our great grandchildren may not have as much to shudder about in the future and we can be transformed by his presence in our hearts, shining beacons of His light while we are in this world of ours.