Parish Eucharist 3rd March 2019
Readings: Exodus 34.29-end; 2 Cor 312-4.2 Luke 9.28-36
Last Sunday we were thinking about God’s creation of man and woman, and the gift of deep connection with one another and with God. This morning we have another story of relationship between God and humanity, human and human.The story of Jesus’ ‘Transfiguration’ as he prays on that mountain top before Peter, James and John. Prays to God his Father as he sets his face towards what he knows lies ahead of him.Crucifixion, the fate of every so-called Messiah before him - and there had been not a few - including in his youth, Judas the Galilean, disrupter of Sepphoris, the first capital city of Herod Antipas,and only few miles from Nazareth.
The Transfiguration, the story which we hear every year from one of the gospels the Sunday next before Lent.It frames our journey into Lent with promise and hope even as we, as Jesus’ disciples, we also, fail to live up to all that we hope we might be.
In his humanity, as he sets his face to Jerusalem, Jesus is afraid. In need of support, human support to comfort his distress - as well as, assurance and strength from his relationship with God his Father. He has been teaching his disciples a little more of who he is,and what he has come to know of God's purposes for him - and for them.Peter has finally recognised him as the Messiah of God. Sternly he warns them to tell no one, and reverting back to his own pre-ferred title, Son of Man, warns them of great suffering to come. He will be scourged and killed. On the third day he will rise again. If they would be his disciples they too, must ‘daily take up their cross, deny themselves and follow him’.
‘About eight days later’ Luke tells us, Jesus took with him Peter and John and James,and led them up a high mountain to pray." In the cosmology of the classical world, prayer was more powerful in the clear air of the mountain top, nearer to God in heaven above. Jesus would take his closest friends with him to the summit. Here he would find the strength to 'set his face to Jerusalem', find strength to go forward knowing as he did, all that would happen. The three with him are exhausted, not just with the physical climb,but with the emotional trauma of all that happens around this, their teacher, all that he has to say to them - and his compassion for the crowd. Luke the physician, adds for us the detail that defeated, they are weighed down by sleep - a good and healthy human response when things become too much. So Jesus is forced to pray alone - as he would later in the Garden of Gethsemane.In fervent prayer poured out to God, he seeks for reassurance:What is God's will for him? Must it really take him to his death? Is there no other way? Could Peter be right after all? Matthew and Mark in their gospels tell us Peter had challenged Jesus in his belief that he must suffer and die.
Into Jesus’ agonised praying God draws very close: the appearance of his face changes, his clothes become a dazzling white. And neither does God leave his Son without human support,Moses and Elijah will share with him the awful reality of what is to come. An awe-full reality in the original use of that word, a reality which will ultimately indeed be filled with awe and wonder. A wonder to come expressed in shimmering transcendant light emanating from the three figures as they converse together.
Here, with Moses and Elijah, Jesus receives the human support he is longing for as they speak together of his departure - departure from this earth, his crucifixion. As a new Moses, Jesus too will lead his people into God’s promised freedom. As a new Elijah he will bring mighty healing to the sick and afflicted, and raise the dead. As Moses’ face shone with glory in the presence of God, so Jesus’ face also shines with the glory of God.
Experiencing this epiphany whose meaning they cannot understand, Jesus closest diciples are rightly terrified. They have not grasped what Jesus’ mission is fully about. Again and again he will need to remind them that being disciples of God’s Messiah is not about worldly, hierarchical power, being on the right or left of God’s king when he comes to reign indeed in glory. This is not about human majesty. No sooner does Peter attempt to bring the situation under his control, resist the suffering which Jesus has made so clear to them he must undergo,no sooner has Peter spoken than they are all envelopped in cloud. Will they heed the voice they hear: This is my Son, my Chosen. Listen to him.
Suddenly everything returns to where it had been when they reached the summit. And they are silenced. Though it will not be long before they are arguing again over who is the greatest amongst them.
With Ash Wednesday approaching fast, why do we reflect at this time each year on this particular story of the Transfiguration? As Peter, John and James, through Lent and into Holy Week, we too, are invited to journey with Jesus up that mountain and down again, along the Jordan valley and up into Jerusalem. To gather with his friends and feast together.To join the joyful crowds waving palms as humbly on a donkey, the Prince of Peace rides down the Mount of Olives and into his city. To witness his cleansing of the Temple, hear his teaching in its precincts.Watch with sorrow the depths of his suffering and his death. Experience ourselves the passionate love which takes him to this place, the rubbish tip called Golgotha.As we journey with him, we too are invited to open our hearts to him. Invite him to speak into each place which causes us pain. Seek his courage always with us, to look into those places in our hearts which we would rather keep shut off and battened down, but which in reality sap our energy until we are ready to allow the experience of their pain, walk with grief for a time - until we arrive at a place where we may recognise our own transfiguration - our own metamorphosis. For nothing less than transformation is what the original Greek intends. Our NT reading is the astonishing declaration from Paul, which mostly we simply do not believe: And all of us ... are being transformed into the same image - the image of Christ that is, from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
Let us remind ourselves daily that this is our calling. We have two days now before Ash Wednesday to decide roughly on the route we might take up that mountain, where the additional time we will make for prayer will come from, the manner in which we will feed our minds, the disciplines we will take on.
May I suggest a commitment to noticing the small things - and expressing our gratitude to one another, and to God. Amen.
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