Sermon for Sunday before Lent Year B 2015
Rev Dr Sam Cappleman
Looking to Lent
With the Ash Wednesday Service coming up this week we are reminded that Lent is almost upon us.
In this morning’s readings it’s as if we get a final glimpse of the light we’ll next encounter at Easter as we read of the Transfiguration of Christ. In the Transfiguration we see Jesus’ identity as Messiah and Son of God confirmed and see just a sliver of the light in a foretaste of His eternal glory.
There are lots of echoes of the Old Testament story in the description of the Transfiguration in Mark.
Jesus, Peter, James and John go up a mountain where they meet with two other cloud and mountain men, Elijah and Moses.
The appearance of Elijah and Moses clearly points to God’s faithfulness in speaking through the law and the prophets, who they represent.
Just as the passage in Mark opens with the phrase, ‘…six days later…’ Moses himself had been on the mountain as he waited for God to speak out of the cloud, and to receive the tablets with the 10 commandments written on them and receive instructions about the building of the sanctuary. (Ex 24)
Elijah too had a mountain top experience after he ran away following his resounding victory at the bonfire contest with the prophets of Baal. He hides in a cave and is drawn out by God who meets with him on the mountain at Horeb (1 Ki 19 v 80 and speaks to him in a still small voice, a mere murmuring, and gives him instructions too, one of which was about the anointing of Elisha.
God, it seems speaks out of clouds (as He did at Jesus’ baptism) and on mountains, which is what we see in the Transfiguration narrative. Interesting too that like Christ, Elijah and Moses have no known grave or resting place.
But with both Moses and Elijah there is a sense of unfinished business. Moses did not lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land. Elijah’s handover to Elisha was not exactly smooth when it happened, he was just whipped up in a whirlwind leaving no real instructions for Elisha as to what to do or say.
Perhaps the disciples realise that the theme of unfinished business ran through some of these encounters and were worried that Jesus was about to be taken from them too, before His ministry had come to completion. Perhaps that’s why they wanted to build some shelters, to try to hold on to things as they were.
But it was to be a very different story – Jesus was not there to be looked back at, but there to be in the present and the future. The fact that the lone figure of Jesus remains when Moses and Elijah depart begins to show how God speaks now, and does not leave us, even though eventually Christ too will leave His disciples in a cloud at Ascension.
So it’s very easy for us to look at the story of the Transfiguration, make the links between the Old Covenant and its people and the New Covenant in Christ and its people. To look back and say, yes we understand what was happening, what was going on.
But that is to miss a key part of the Transfiguration narrative. It’s not about an intellectual understanding of what is happening, as important as this is. It is was just an intellectual exercise what would be the point of it. Where is the space for faith and letting God be God.
It’s more than an intellectual, cerebral understanding because in the transfiguration story we see moments of divine encounter, moments of divine revelation and moments of divine faith far beyond any mental exercise or logic analysis.
We see moments of divine encounter when the disciples encounter Moses, Elijah and the transfigured Christ. This encounter would never be forgotten. It would be engraved on their memories for ever. They would look back on it through their lives as one of the most transforming and supernatural moments of their lives, where they met with the cloud of Glory of God Himself.
We seem moments of divine revelation as through the experience, as deeply personal as it was, it wasn’t for personal gratification or personal delight. It was for a reason, that the world would come to know the transfigured Christ as the Messiah. It was a confirmation of who He was and why He had come.
We see moments of faith as the penny drops and the implications of what has happened sink in to Peter, James and John. Their lives would never be the same and it’s clear they spent time trying to make sense of what had happened.
And it’s these moments of revelation, encounter and faith that we too share. Perhaps not in the same intense way as Peter, James and John encountered on the mountain with Jesus, but time too when God reveals Himself to us in mysterious ways beyond our understanding.
But sometimes, because we are so analytical in our thinking we can miss them. It’s not that they don’t happen but sometimes it’s that we rationalise them away. But if we believe God is still active in His world we should expect to encounter Him from time to time in moments of revelation and of faith.
We too can know the glory of the Lord as did the disciples, even those who were not part of the Transfiguration experience. We too can have the mountain top experience of James, Peter and John as God changes us and our circumstances as he transfigures who we are too.
For as we reflect His glory, so we too are being transfigured, reflecting the bright light of Christ into the world. As we are changed into his likeness, from glory to glory as the Collect for today puts it.
Times when God catches us unawares, times when perhaps were not in control. Times when our natural reaction seems to be to do something practical, rather than just wait on God and see what He has in store for us.
And just as their experience of God would keep them going when they were not on the mountain top, but in the valleys of darkness and despair we too can know Gods presence and glory with us as we look around and see Him active in our lives and in the lives of others.
Sometimes we only get fleeting glimpses, slivers of light and hope, but they are there. They can be elusive, as the disciples found, they can’t be contained or controlled, in a shelter or anywhere else. But they can be treasured and remembered in our hearts.
But when God touches us, as he does to each one of us, we should appreciate the moment and move on down the mountain and back to real life, not try to build structures around an experience or to try to capture it or put it on record as if it was some self-gratifying selfie.
But thank God for it even though we might not understand the reason and treasure it as part of our own story of transfiguration.