Sunday next before Lent - Transfiguration
Matthew 17: 1-9
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters–one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don't be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don't tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.
This is the last Sunday before Lent - so next week we start the march with Jesus towards Jerusalem and the events of the Passion. Next week we have Ash Wednesday.
If you have not been to the Ash Wednesday service before then I encourage you to attend. It makes sense of the Easter story. Sometimes people tell me that they find that service hard because we use ash and we say
‘from dust you were created and to dust you will return.’
Well you need to see the service in the whole context of the Easter story. It starts with Ash Wednesday and we think of death and our mortality, but then there is a journey we go through up to Easter when we leave the ashes behind and have bacon sandwiches on resurrection morning. But you can’t have resurrection until you have death !
So let’s think about this incident it self of Transfiguration
Last week in half term Corinne and I went to Iceland and we saw the most amazing waterfalls and volcanoes and basalt cliffs and scenes we may never see the like of again. Sadly no matter how great the holiday experience you always have to pack up that suitcase and get back on the plane, and you see all those lucky folks arriving for their holidays when you have come to end of yours.
In spite of all the books that have been written and the pictures which have been painted, the church hasn’t really known quite what to make of this episode in the life of Jesus. It has sometimes been reduced to sermons which speak of how it was a bit like our holiday they all went up a mountain and had a really great time and then they had to come back down to earth and get on with the drudge of daily life.
But this episode from the Transfiguration is so much more than a ‘buck up’ moment. The gospel writers are not recording this in an effort to remind us that no matter how bad it gets there are good times and bad times. They were willing to die to report what had happened to Jesus on that mountain.
In 2 Peter they say look we are not just making all this up, this really happened.
These folks were eye witnesses and they genuinely believed what they recorded.
They did not just believe these things they were willing to die for what they believed
So what did happen that was of such importance?
The picture today in Partnership News is one of thousands which have been painted about the Transfiguration, it is a huge event and one which has attracted enormous volumes of art and writing.
I wasn’t sure whether to use that picture because I wanted one which had Jesus in really bright clothes. The passage from Matthew tells us that the clothes of Jesus became ‘white as light’, In Luke’s account is says ‘dazzling white ! Like one of those adverts on the TV for soap powder which makes clothes super white like you have never seen them before, even after the kids have been playing football, or as in this case, even after in this case climbing a mountain!
We are told that Jesus was transfigured, the Greek word is metamorphe. We use the words to describe what happens when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly from which we get morphosis - Jesus is morphed. It is real sci-fi.
Then Moses and Elijah appear and Peter offers to make tents. Peter either wants to pad things out or he just feels awkward, a case of don’t just stand there do something ! Jesus doesn’t always want us to ‘do’ something, sometimes we are called just to ‘be’ and in this case busyness is not what is required, Peter, James and John must listen, and it is whilst Peter is still speaking that a voice comes from the cloud
along the lines of
‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, my chosen, listen to him!'
The voice tells Jesus and the disciples who Jesus is, it is a moment of huge revelation and it is what this episode really is all about
Seeing Jesus for who he is
No wonder the disciples fall to the floor and we are told that Jesus came and touched them
In the Narnia stories by C S Lewis he tries to communicate in very simple truth the same facts, He tells of children who can enter another world through a wardrobe. he is saying that just on the other side of those clothes there is another reality. Now if you are oblivious to a spiritual world then you will want to reduce this miracle which happens to Jesus to something ordinary and mundane and you might say they fell asleep and dreamed it. But make no mistake what the synoptic Gospels report is a real event. They had seen behind the wardrobe to a place beyond our own time where those who have died are not dead. It was that certainty of life beyond death which gave them courage like no other
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.
This wonderful experience of course was not an end in itself. It empowered them for service
This was an opportunity upon which they could reflect. This moment was something which they could not hold onto in time like Peter wanted, but they could hold it in their hearts and draw strength from it. It was a God - given encouragement.
This glimpse of who Jesus is was important for the disciples, it is important for us
Right now, the world is filled with a variety of confusing events, divisive rhetoric, increased tension, and an unclear picture of the future.
The promise: “Do not be afraid.” This is the hallmark of the Gospel, words perhaps never more needed than now. We live in a time of enormous uncertainty
Fear is a part of the common fabric of our lives even though it manifests itself differently. And to all these different fears, the Gospel reply is the same:
Because God is God of the past, present, and future, we need not fear.
It is recognizing that when we trust God for our individual and communal good and believe God is with us always, we need not fear.
The Transfiguration is a bit like trailer, it gives us a glimpse of the real movie. Sometimes when Corinne and I are looking for a film to watch we look at them and we say, the film looks great, other times Corinne will say that it is an ironing film.
With the Transfiguration God grants us a glimpse of something behind the veil, an amazing preview into the Kingdom of God.
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