14 February 2010
Sunday Next Before Lent, St Valentine’s Day
10.30 Communion in Woodchurch
Rev’d Paul White
Readings 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2. Luke 9:28-36
May I speak this morning in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.
First let me wish you a happy St. Valentine’s day.
As I said in my letter for the parish magazine this month it is unlikely that today’s celebration of romantic love has much to do with the one or two martyred bishops called Valentine from 3rd Century Rome, and it is much more likely that we celebrate romance today because the feast of St Valentine coincided with the day on which the medievals believed that birds started in mate. All I can say is with the amount of snow we have had this week good luck to them!
But I am not going to talk about St Valentine’s day as such this morning because I have already written a letter for the magazine (which is available in all good bookshops and by the door) and today’s set readings are so amazing and powerful that I don’t want to miss the opportunity to talk about them.
In addition to being St Valentine’s day today is the last Sunday before Lent and the Gospel reading for today, as we have just heard, is St Luke’s account of the transfiguration of Jesus: Jesus went up on a mountain to pray and he took with him three of his closest disciples: Peter, John and James. While Jesus was praying the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became dazzling white. Apart from washing powder adverts does this description of dazzling whiteness remind anybody of any other appearances in the bible?
The angels that appeared after the resurrection (eg Matt 28:2 “His appearance was like lightning and his clothes were as white as snow”). Of course this doesn’t mean that Jesus was an angel but it points our minds forward towards the events of the resurrection and, of course, to the heavenly nature of this man prior to the events of Easter.
And then Moses and Elijah appeared, also shining in glory and they spoke to him about what he was soon to do in Jerusalem. Of course both Moses and Elijah were hugely important figures in Judaism and it is interesting that their appearance with Jesus confers on him the authority of the Old Testament tradition but we are also clearly shown that Jesus supercedes that authority as Moses and Elijah both leave and the voice of God pronounces upon Jesus alone: “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him!” So the transfiguration shows us both an important continuity from the patriarchs and prophets of Judaism but also clearly shows a vital discontinuity – in Jesus God is doing something new – Jesus is not a patriach or a prophet but is God’s own son and it is to him we should be listening.
Thinking for a moment about the image of Jesus standing there with God’s voice saying “This is my Son” – does that remind anyone of anything else in the bible?
It reminds me of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan when God said: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
So the transfiguration points us forward to Jesus’ resurrection and gives us a flavour of his divine nature, it reminds us of his baptism and it tells us that Jesus is both connected with the Jewish tradition and yet is something entirely new.
That continuity and discontinuity is also shown in the comparison with Moses in the reading from Exodus 34 on your sheets. In that reading Moses had also ascended a mountain to listen to God and he too was transfigured by his proximity to the holy.
“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….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…”
And so Moses was changed by being close to God and he felt the need to cover up that change in front of the people.
St Paul clearly saw the connection between the events of Moses and Jesus and he wrote about it in his second letter to the Corinthians that we had today and, I have to say, Paul is not entirely sympathetic to Moses approach to covering up his transfiguration:
“…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.”
I find that a fascinating phrase: the end of the glory that was being set aside. Moses, Elijah, Jesus and even the Angels were all glorified by one thing – their proximity to God the Father. As St Paul reminds us that is a journey and a transfiguration that calls us all, but we’ll get there in a moment.
Having rather criticised Moses for his lack of boldness in putting a veil over the glory of God Paul tells us that in Christ the glory of God is unveiled:
“…when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.”
And the image of Jesus as removing the veil between God and man of another Easter story, but this time from Good Friday – can anyone think of what that might be? In Luke’s account of the crucifixion (Luke 24:45) we are told that just before Jesus died the curtain of the temple was torn in two. The curtain of the temple divided the holy of holies from the people so it acted like a veil shielding the people from the presence or the glory of God and Jesus’ death removed that barrier.
And that of course is the whole point of God’s mission to earth in the person of Jesus – to remove the veil or the barrier between God and man and to give us the means to draw closer to God. And as we draw closer to God we too will be transfigured and, unlike Moses, we should not seek to cover up that change:
“And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into that same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord the Spirit.”
So God the Holy Spirit, the presence of God that lives within us, that enthuses and inspires us, also calls us on from one degree of glory to another. We are not called to remain in a static relationship with God but we are called, each of us individually and as a church, to seek the transfiguration that comes from proximity with God. Now transfiguration and change can be scary – Aaron and the Israelites were afraid, Peter and the disciples were terrified. The fear of the Lord can sometimes mean actually being afraid. But St Paul urges us to be bold and not to lose heart and to remember that this comes from God the Spirit.
On Wednesday we will be starting the Lenten pilgrimage to Easter. The point of all pilgrimages is not just to arrive at the destination, but also to change us. This lent don’t just give up an indulgence that you quite enjoy why not make a conscious effort to draw closer to God day by day. Why not seek transfiguration, a change that both reminds us of our own baptism and that points us forward to our own resurrection. We each of us were made in the image and likeness of God and the point of this pilgrimage, not just through Lent but through life, is to recapture the image and likeness in which we were made and to be transformed or transfigured into that image from one degree of glory into another. The glory of the Father, unveiled by the Son and empowered by the Spirit.Amen.