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Worship, Prayer and Bible Study Resources

Last Sunday before Lent, Year C Green

Opening Verse

transfiguration by Bellini

 
Collect Prayer
First Reading:
Second Reading:
Gospel Reading
Commentary:
Meditation:
Hymns for this week
Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead :

For alternative Lectionary readings click here


Transfiguration of JesusIntroduction

Think back over the past weeks since Christmas. At his baptism, Jesus' glory was seen when he was declared God's Son. At Cana, his Glory was evident in his power to change nature- water into wine. At Nazareth, his preaching revealed his glory. In the calling of the disciples, Jesus' glory was acknowledged by those who left everything to follow him. During the last Sundays of this Epiphany season, we have seen the glory reflected in his teachings. Last week we saw Jesus in control of nature when he calmed the great storm on the lake by his word alone, reminiscent of God in creation.Today, at the Transfiguration, everything comes together: Jesus reflects in his person, the glory of God, and the past is fulfilled with the approval of Moses and Elijah. The whole scene is surrounded by symbolic meaning; an aura of unnatural brightness is linked with mystical appearances in Exodus and Acts, "dazzling white" is a symbol of transcendence, the "cloud" is a symbol of God's presence and the words from it recall Jesus' baptism, and add "listen to him!"

Opening Verse of Scripture    Psalm 99

The LORD reigns, let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake. Great is the LORD in Zion; he is exalted over all the nations. Let them praise your great and awesome name-- he is holy.


Collect Prayer for the Day—Before we read we pray

Almighty Father, whose Son was revealed in majesty before he suffered death upon the cross: give us grace to perceive his glory, that we may be strengthened to suffer with him and be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. CW

Almighty God, give us reverence for all creation and respect for every person, that we may mirror your likeness in Jesus Christ our Lord. CW

 

First Bible Reading Exodus 34:29 –35

Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterwards all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him. NRSV

Second Reading 2 Corinthians Chapter 3:12 - 4:2

Since we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practise cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God. NRSV

Transfiguartion by Feofan G Gospel Reading Luke 9:28-36 (37-43)

Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ Peter did not know what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And the disciples kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

(37-43) On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, ‘Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It throws him into convulsions until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.’ Jesus answered, ‘You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.’ While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God. Everyone was amazed at all that he was doing. NRSV

Post Communion Prayer

O holy God, we behold thy glory in the face of Jesus Christ: grant that we who are partakers at his table may reflect his life in word and deed,
that all the world may know his power to change and save; through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Commentary

The transfiguration takes place on a mountain, we are not quite sure which mountain, Mount Tabor is now the location of the Church of the Transfiguration, others have suggested Mount Hermon, Mount Nebo or Mount Meron. The important point is that it was up a mountain and mountains have been seen as places where God’s prophets and messengers like Moses encountered God in a special way. We all know the advantages which we get from an elevated position. When I visit a new place one of the things which I like to do is to go the highest place, a tower or the top of a cathedral. From the top I can put places in their context and the geography suddenly makes sense and I can see where I want to go. Jesus does the same thing with his disciples in the story this morning this morning when he takes them up a mountain. Of course it is not a geographical perspective which he wants them to have bit a spiritual perspective. Jesus knew that there were difficult days ahead of them, so he took the disciples up the mountain to help them understand their position in God’s time and space.

We all have to create spaces in our busy lives to recognise the awe inspiring, that which provokes wonder - the holy. To do this is to wake the spirit. We need to remember that God is not a distant being who is trying to speak and just occasionally a signal breaks through space and then is lost. God is not remote, out there, God is at the centre of each of lives, whether we know it or not. In Acts 17:27 we read Paul say

From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him — though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “In him we live and move and have our being”;

What Paul is saying is that God is the source of our being, at the heart of each one of us. Yes God is transcendent and magnificent, but God is also close enough to be real. The tragedy is of course that modern life especially doesn’t leave people enough time to ’grope’ for God and lives are lived on a very superficial level. This leaves the soul starved and many people are lost and afraid since their world seems empty and meaningless.

In the transfiguration Jesus pulls back the veil a little to give his three most trusted disciples Peter, James a John a vision of his glory and majesty. On the mountain Jesus is subject to a change in appearance. Mark tells us that the clothes of Jesus suddenly became the most ‘dazzling white’ and Matthew tells us that his face ‘shone like the sun.’ Again the readers would note how Jesus is being shown as the ‘New Moses’, in Exodus Chapter 34:9 we read
‘Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.’

Two men appear with Jesus and we are told that they are Elijah and Moses and they spoke with Jesus. In a state of fear and no doubt bewilderment, Peter tries to get them to stay and offers to put up some tents. It is not such a crazy idea as it was the Feast of Tabernacles and at the bottom of the mountain there were lots of people living in tents at the time. This moment is not however destined to last and a cloud appears, again reminiscent of the cloud which came to Moses (Exodus 24:16) and what is believed to be the voice of God makes a proclamation which is slightly different in all three gospels, but along the lines of
‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, my chosen, listen to him! ‘
Unsurprisingly we are told that the disciples end up on the floor and in Matthew’s Gospel there is a lovely moment recorded that Jesus came and touched them and said ’Rise and have no fear.’

This event is so out of the ordinary and beyond our experience that we don’t know what really went on. In the Gospel of Luke we are told that it occurred when they were on the mountain praying. There is always a temptation to try and see the normal in the events described in the Gospels, but we know from the following passage from 2 Peter 1 that the disciples really believed that something quite spectacular took place in which God set his clear approval on Jesus for them all to see.

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.  For he received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.

Not only did the disciples refuse to reduce this experience to any normality it was on the basis of such an event that they went on to proclaim the story refusing to deny what had happened even to death. It was in this moment that the disciples had become aware of the fact that when they looked at Jesus they were looking into the face of God in all its grace and glory. At that moment of Transfiguration the veil that shrouds the mystery of faith was lifted and they saw that God was present in human form reconciling the world to God’s self.

The Transfiguration provided the disciples, and through them us, with a glimpse of another world. It is an opportunity to remind ourselves that there is a reality beyond the world around us which is greater than we can simply see and touch. There is potential and possibilities available to us through the presence of God, greater than most people could ever imagine. The Transfiguration challenges us to think in a new way, just as the disciples see Jesus in a new way. They understand the presence of God in an amazing experience, from now on everything will be different.  Charles Royden

Meditation

picture of Pieta MarblePieta c. 1498-99 Marble 174 x 195 cm (5 3/4 x 6 ft)
Basilica of St Peter, Vatican

He was only in his early twenties when Michelangelo was commissioned in 1498 to do a life-size sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding her son in her arms. It was to be unveiled in St. Peter's Basilica for the Jubilee of 1500. In less than two years Michelangelo carved from a single slab of marble, one of the most magnificent sculptures ever created.

In 1972, a 33-year-old Australian geologist attacked Michelangelo's Pieta with a hammer. One of Mary's hands was broken off and extensive damage was done to her face. A team of experts was brought in to restore the sculpture. They did not set to work right away. They spent the first weeks simply studying the statue. They wanted to be so immersed in the spirit behind the master's work that when they began the restoration process, they would do so with the mind of Michelangelo and not simply with their own.

As we seek to be transformed into disciples of Jesus we wish ours to be a fascinated gaze that cause us to be a reflection of the Master.

Hymns

  • All my hope on God is founded
  • I am a new creation
  • Seek ye first
  • At the name of Jesus
  • O worship the king
  • All hail the power of Jesus name
  • Seek ye first
  • Angel voices ever singing
  • Immortal, invisible, God only wise (St Denio)
  • I watch the sunrise
  • How good Lord to be here (Carlisle)
  • The Lord’s my shepherd
  • Come, praise the name of Jesus
  • O worship the king


Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

representation of prayer as seed growing

 

"Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian. If it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die."

 

May the love of Christ embrace you. The divinity of the Creator infuse you. And the joy of the Spirit lead you always further into all bliss. Amen (Christina Rees)

God of all times and seasons: I come to you, the God of Spring – the new leaf God, the new life God – blessed by your creation. I come to you, the God of Summer – the colour God, the growing God –blessed by your sustenance. I come to you, the god of Autumn – the harvest God, the richness God, - blessed by your fruitfulness. I come to you, the God of Winter – the waiting God, the still and secret God – blessed by your mystery. And so I surrender my seasons into your eternity; I open my life to the edges of your timelessness; And when I come to that place of stillness and silence. There let me adore you. Amen (Peter Graystone)

To those who hunger, give bread. To those who have bread, Give a hunger for justice. Amen

Grant us, O Lord, a resurrection faith - a faith that is radiant in the knowledge of your victory over sin and death - a faith that is confident in your care and your love. Bless now, we pray, with joy those who call out in your name and those who labour as you have directed. Bless too those we hold before you - and work a work of healing and salvation in their lives.
 

O Lord, we pray, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds and the longing of our hearts, by the words of my lips and in the thoughts we form. Speak, O Lord, for your servants listen. Amen.

We give you thanks and praise, O God, for you are the one who removes the veil from our minds and transfigure us in the wondrous light of your glory. At the dawn of time your word lit up the sun and stars and dispelled the chaos to form the earth. You revealed your glory to your servant, Moses, and, from the cloud, you made a covenant with your people. In the timeless presence of Moses and Elijah you transfigured your Son, Jesus Christ, allowing his terrified followers to witness his glory and hear your voice from the awesome cloud. He was killed by those whose minds were hardened, but, by your mercy, his exodus through the waters of death led to resurrection life and freedom. Now, you have called us to listen to him and live our lives as an open statement of your truth. Through your Holy Spirit, you are transforming us into his image and clothing us with honour and majesty. Therefore, with our hearts lifted high, we offer you thanks and praise at all times through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Holy and Eternal God, you know our need for you, our need for your love to warm our hearts, for your word to guide us, for your Spirit to sustain us, for your presence to make us whole. Help us to wait upon you now with penitent and believing hearts - help us to hear your word, to see your glory, to feel your touch, and then to follow in the way the Spirit directs us. We ask all these things in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. .

Meditation

The Transfiguration painting by Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino 1516-1520A Picture Paints a Thousand Words
Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino 1516 - 1520 (159in x 109in)

This materpiece has been described as the greatest work of Raphael and his last painting before he died aged 37. In art Chiaroscuro is the use of strong contrasts between light and dark and this painting by Raphael is a classic example. There is a juxtaposition between the glorious Christ above in Matthew 17:1-8 and the faithless and perverted generation below in Matthew 17:9-21. Look and you will see that this is really two paintings in one a ‘buy one get one free’ depicting the earthly and celestial realm. The top is light and shows the Transfiguration with Jesus elevated and bathed in light and John, Peter, and James (wearing the colours that represent faith, hope, and love) are on the ground awestruck. Moses representing the law is on the left with his tablets of stone and Elijah representing the prophets is on the right. Two men kneel on the left, possibly Justus and Pastor, two saints that share the feast day of the Transfiguration (August 6).The saints were also patrons of Cardinal Giulio de Medici who commissioned the painting and the Cathedral of Narbonne where it was intended to be hung as an altar piece.

Now look below the mount and there are two opposed groups engulfed in darkness. On the right is the family of a boy who suffers from epilepsy supported by his father pleading in vain for the nine apostles to help the boy. The boys his eyes are rolled back, his mouth open and his arms frail. Matthew described the boy in Greek not as epileptic but “moonstruck, ” so note the reflection of the moon in the left bottom corner(σεληνιάζεται, in the Greek). The term "lunatic" derives from the Latin word lunaticus, which originally referred mainly to epilepsy and madness, as diseases thought to be caused by the moon. The dark earthly realm needs Jesus, the light that must enter the dark world of men and without his power, men are helpless. The apostle in red shuts his eyes, pressing his right hand to his heart as he points with his left. Neither he nor anybody else looks at the transfigured Christ but there is a spiritual connection formed. The observer is challenged to recognise the spiritual realm of Christ, contrasted by the earthly realm in darkness, and seek to ascend spiritually with Christ. The use of chiaroscuro emphasizes the woman in the midst of the dark generation, pointing the apostles to the child. Perhaps she is the mother of the child, some have suggested she represents Faith or the Church instructing Jesus’ disciples to bring the grace and gospel of Christ to a people in darkness.

The painting was hung over Raphael’s body while he was lying in state, and when his body was taken for its burial, the picture was carried by its side and placed above Raphael’s tomb in the Pantheon.

 

Christian Aid Prayer

The sun offers its gift of warmth
the sea offers its gift of water
the mountains give their coolness
and their beauty
the breeze refreshes creation.
And we too bring our gifts
so that all may have life.
Lord use then to fill the world
with peace and justice
so that every home can have its daily bread. Amen.
Christian Aid Prayer written in the Dominican republic.

 

Alternative Readings

Roman centurion healingIntroduction

The Roman Centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant was a man used to issuing orders and expecting them to be obeyed without question. An order was not to be questioned, it was to be carried out because it came from a higher authority. So when the Centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant he did not expect that Jesus would have to come to his home himself. It would simply be enough for Jesus to issue the order and it would be carried out.


We do not often hear in the Bible that Jesus is surprised, but on this occasion we are told that Jesus was amazed at the faith of the Centurion. When we speak about faith we often mean what ideas we have, what we believe about God. The faith of this Centurion was about recognising who Jesus was and understanding that the power of God was powerfully at work in him, enabling Jesus to do whatever he considered fit. The Gentile Centurion had understood more about Jesus than the Jews who resented him so much.
 

So what do you believe about Jesus? The Centurion was able to share in the blessings of Jesus and a marvellous healing took place. That same Jesus has power today to answer your needs.
 

 Commentary

The episode we read about today in Luke is often called the ‘Transfiguration’. Matthew and Luke both record the event and use the Greek word ’metamorpho.’ It is a word which means to transform from an earthly to a supernatural figure. Luke doesn’t actually use the word transfiguration, perhaps because he was writing for a different audience and the word had pagan connotations. Greek gods and magicians were believed to transform themselves into other forms. Historians of Rome told stories of divine kings whose divinity was confirmed by a transfiguration event. This was true of Romulus, the founder of Rome, and also Tullius Servius, the sixth king of Rome (575-535BC). He was born of a slave woman and a divine phantom and his divinity was confirmed by a transfiguration story.

We don’t really know what happened, we are told that it was an event which occurred in prayer and the Gospel writers call it a ‘Vision.’ To some people that might mean that it never really took place they just imagined it! Prayer is not something which we can submit to scientific analysis, but we know that this episode was very real to the disciples and terrified them. Matthew records that they fell on the floor and they were filled with awe and he records a very nice detail that Jesus came to them and ‘touched them’, that human gesture to reassure them and give them peace.

So let’s look at what is going on in Luke’s Gospel specifically today. Starting from the beginning of Luke’s Gospel we are taken on a journey of discovering who Jesus is. Luke has a sequence of events which show that Jesus is special and they build up to the episode which we read about today which we call the Transfiguration. Let me pick out 10 building blocks in preparation for today -

1. An angel announcing to Mary about his miraculous birth. Jesus will have a kingdom that will never end.
2. An angel announces to shepherds that Jesus is born and he is the Messiah, a Saviour.
3. Simeon takes Jesus in his arms and announces that he has now seen God’s salvation for all people
4. Jesus is seen in the Temple at 12 year discussing with adult teachers and clearly he is not an ordinary child.
5. At the age of 30 Jesus is baptised in the Jordan by John and a voice proclaims him to be God’s son.
6. Jesus enters the wilderness for 40 days to discover what his ministry will be like
7. Jesus preaches a controversial sermon at Nazareth and announces that God’s Spirit was guiding his ministry to be one which valued the poor, the disadvantaged, the ones at the bottom of society. He is lucky to avoid death from the mob afterwards.
8. The ministry of Jesus takes off as he preaches at Capernaum and he heals and calls his disciples
9. There are some disturbing signs in his ministry which suggest all will not be easy. A ‘sinful’ woman kisses Jesus feet and pours perfume onto them and wipes them with her hair.
10. Most significantly after Peter declares Jesus to be ‘God’s Messiah,’ Jesus tells that he must die and be raised to life.

Today, at the Transfiguration, everything comes together on this mountain, a moment of climax as Jesus is seen alongside Moses and Elijah. It was said that Elijah never died (2 Kings 2:11, Mal 4:5) and although we read that God himself had buried Moses (Deut 34:6), in Jewish tradition, both "Moses and Elijah" were taken into heaven without dying and there was speculation that they might appear at times when heaven made itself seen. There was an air of expectancy that they would reveal themselves at an important time.

Jesus speaks with them and shares his plans for his ministry leading to his death in Jerusalem. It is while Jesus is speaking that God’s voice declares Jesus to be his Son and tells them to ‘listen to him.’ It doesn’t get any bigger than this, this is the ultimate seal of approval. Moses and Elijah as representatives of the Old Testament, particularly, the Law and the Prophets, then the voice of God himself. They show that Jesus' agenda, no matter how radical and different from the religion of the time, was approved of by God because Jesus was doing his will. Luke has told us that the purpose of the meeting was for Jesus to discuss the progress towards his death, literally his ‘Exodus’. Although this was a natural way to speak of death (Wisdom of Solomon 7:6) there overtones of future salvation which the prophets and later Jews often viewed as a new Exodus.
Moses and Elijah prepare to leave and Peter encourages them to stay, offering to put up three shelters. He was wrong for all sorts of reasons, not least because a tent apiece suggested that Jesus was just the equal of Moses and Elijah and this was not the case. In Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 13;3, 8, 18:15) the people had been told to listen to Moses, now these words from the cloud say that this no longer so, the people are no longer to listen to Moses but Jesus. We need to be reassured of this fact today, that our absolute authority comes from the teaching of Jesus. Jesus stands in continuity with the Old Testament as we know it, symbolized by two of the most important figures in it, Moses and Elijah, however it is Jesus who brings the Kingdom of God and salvation for humankind, and his words are the final and incomparable authority.

No matter how much Peter might have wanted it to be so, this time of glory which came in prayer could not be contained or become and end in itself. Luke describes how as soon as they came down from the mountain they were straight back into the confrontation with evil. Luke the writer demonstrates the movement from the mountain top experience to the needy world.  Charles Royden

 

Commentary

Sometimes the characters who encounter Jesus are merely sketched in the Gospel writers. They are stick men and women who feed Jesus the right line and then disappear into obscurity of history.

The centurion in today’s reading from the Gospel according to St Luke is very different. We learn a great deal about him and he leaps from the page as a very interesting character indeed. The centurion confounds our expectations about the kind of emotions we might expect from a seasoned soldier in an army of occupation. He has made himself liked and respected by the local population; he has shown respect and sympathy for their religion; he has helped them practically in building their place of worship. He also displays a surprising love for his slave. We are told not that the slave was useful to him but that he was dear to him.

The centurion was willing to beg for help from a rabbi with a reputation as a healer. In al his dealings with Jesus, the centurion shows the most remarkable humility. Although how Jesus heals is a mystery to him, as it is to us, the centurion showed unwavering belief in Jesus’ power to heal, and before that power the centurion acknowledged his own unworthiness. Jesus was astonished by the Roman soldier’s faith and respect. The centurion saw. With the clarity of the outsider, that Jesus was infused by power from God, and knew that alongside that power, earthly authority was meaningless. The centurion’s wisdom and humility secured for him the healing of a person he cared for.

We too need humility to recognise our own unworthiness before God, This is the first stage in our spiritual healing. Joan Crossley