Sermon preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden
5 March 2000
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. Amen
The Bible Reading
Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters - one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!" Suddenly, when they looked round, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
This is a wonderful episode. Jesus has been recognised by Peter as the Messiah, then he makes a complete mess of it by telling Jesus that he must not suffer. Now he is privileged to see Jesus on the mountain in this amazing scene with Elijah and Moses and dazzling wonderful white robes. I wonder if you have noticed this morning that I am looking very white? It is not because I have been transfigured, but because I washed my robes last week before the Bishop came.
I have called today 'a window onto a different world' Last week I went to see 'The Lion the witch and the wardrobe' at Stratford Upon Avon with the Royal Shakespeare Company. It was excellent and I have brought back a programme for you all to see. Complete with cut out masks for the children of the animal figures. It is a wonderful story and tells of four children and their adventure in a place called Narnia. It is a children's book but also very grown up. It causes us to question whether there is another world. C.S. Lewis will form one of our evenings in the Chapel Lent series and I hope that you will come and discover more about him then.
Many people are oblivious to a spiritual world, governed totally by the ordinary and the mundane Let's think about some of the themes from this story—
That there is a place beyond our own time
This bible reading today tells of a very mysterious event on the top of a mountain [Mark 9:2-8] far away and long ago. It tells us that very close to us there is another world. Interestingly of course Moses had not entered the promised land, yet now here he was clearly alive in God's promised land. For those considering what happens when we die this may be an interesting piece of scripture to remember. In this place clearly Moses and Elijah are presented as alive in God. We are to have hope and judge ourselves by the values of that Kingdom Christian are called pilgrims for many reasons, one of them is because they are on their way to another home, a kingdom which is not of this world, whose values are different.
Now in the story of C S Lewis, 'The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe' the children enter this strange land Narnia through a wardrobe. Only a short journey away, through some coats, is a whole new world which other people are not aware of. It is a world in which there are people and creatures and a fight between good and evil. It is a world in which the evil witch is only defeated by the sacrificial laying down of the life of the strong lion Aslan. It is he who saves the life of the child Edmund by giving his own life in the boy's place. In so doing he acts in accordance with the rules laid down in the deep magic of the Emperor.
This wonderful story has much that resonates with our understanding of the Gospel. It also helps us to think beyond what we can see and recognise the other world which is such a short distance away. In the story of the transfiguration, Jesus shows just how close that world is. In a moment the disciples can see Moses and Elijah. I am often asked about where our loved ones are. The transfiguration is a window onto that world where those who have gone before abide in the love of God. There is between us only a metaphorical walk through a wardrobe.
It empowered them for service
Jesus had spoken of death and suffering and they were afraid. Then the disciples saw Moses and Elijah! They must have been terrified. The disciples feared over so much, they were paralysed with fear, we too can be fearful without need. There is much over which we can be afraid, this episode gave the disciples something which would give them strength in the days ahead. This was an opportunity upon which they could reflect. This moment was something which they could not hold onto in time, but they could hold it in their hearts and draw strength from it. It was a God - given encouragement. So it was to be, indeed Peter spoke about it later: we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty [2 Peter 1:16-18].
We have all had some experience of the wonder of God. Sometimes it comes to us through the appreciation of nature, sometimes, indeed, on a mountain. But we all have to come back down the mountain and get on with real life, and most of our time is spent at the bottom of the mountain in the valleys of life. The ministry of Jesus could not be conducted from the mountain top, it was instead something carried out on the cross of suffering. But when the disciples were tempted to give up and think that the Christian service to which they were called was a hopeless cause, they were to look back and remember Christ as they knew him in the Transfiguration, clothed in glory.