Last Sunday before Lent

26 February 2017

10.00 Holy Communion Hadlow

Readings Exodus 24:12-end, Matthew 17:1-9

May I speak this morning in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Life can sometimes get a bit routine.

You do the same things every day, see the same people, or perhaps don’t see any people. You inhabit the same space and you know, or at least you think you know, what will happen next.  You can look back on a long string of similar such days and you may think that there is only more of the same to come.

I know that most of us crave the security and predictability of a routine, not least because it can give a sense of continuity in an uncertain world, but too much routine can get, dare I say it, a little boring.

And that can be especially true at this time of year – it feels like the weather has been dreary for ever, although Storm Doris perhaps added a bit of excitement.  It certainly caused some amusement in my family as my maternal grandmother was called Doris and she could sometimes be very stormy.

But it can sometimes feel like it has been forever since anything really good or exciting happened and, from Wednesday we have six weeks of Lenten fasting to come, whatever form that may take for you.

Fed up yet?

I hope not because in the midst of the flat lands of routine and sameness God is calling us to lift up our eyes to the hills – no, not just to the hills, but to lift up your eyes to the mountains. There, if we will but listen and follow, God seeks to encounter and transform his people.  Before we set off into the wilderness of Lent on Ash Wednesday God wants to give us a mountain-top experience, to catch a glimpse of his glory, in order to carry us through to the Day of Resurrection when, once again, we catch sight of his kingdom in the shining raiment of the angels.

Today is the last Sunday before Lent but it is also known as Transfiguration Sunday.  Our readings from both Old and New Testaments tell the story of Moses, Jesus and his disciples following the call of God to take themselves out of the ordinary, away from the crowds and to spend time seeking and dwelling in the presence of God.

So first we meet Moses in Chapter 24 of Exodus.  Interestingly this chapter comes in the midst of some rather dry chapters detailing various rules and regulations.  Amongst all this legality Moses hears a call from God:

Come up to me on the mountain and stay here…”

Unlike Jesus, who takes three of the disciples with him, Moses ascends Mount Sinai alone.  And this is no rushed experience.  As Moses climbed the mountain we hear that the glory of God enveloped it for six days.  And what does the glory of God look like? We are told that, to the Hebrews at the bottom of the mountain, it looked like a consuming fire.  The first time that Moses heard the call of God it came from a burning bush.  As Moses has grown in his relationship with God so now the presence of God is a consuming fire which covers the top of a mountain.   And then, after 6 days of patient waiting on the seventh day God again called to Moses.  This is an interesting reversal of the account of creation which had six days of activity and one day of rest. Finally, we heard that Moses entered the glory of God, this consuming fire, and stayed there for 40 days and 40 nights.  During Lent, of course, we think about the fast of Jesus for 40 days and 40 nights, during which he struggled with and overcame temptation, but it is perhaps interesting to meditate also on what it must have been like for Moses to have been surrounded by the glory of God for that same length of time.  How did he experience God and how did it transform him?

In the Gospel reading for today Jesus also ascended a high mountain to spend time in the presence of God.  Although Jesus often went off to pray alone on this occasion he took with him three of his closest disciples: Peter, John and James.

While Jesus was praying the appearance of his face changed and shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white.   As you may remember, although it is not in today’s reading, when Moses encountered God his face shone so much that he had to wear a veil so as not to scare his people and in the accounts of the angels following the resurrection of Jesus we are told that they shone, so just in these few words our minds are cast both back to Moses and forward to the resurrection.

And then Moses and Elijah appeared, also shining in glory and they spoke to him.  Other Gospel accounts tell us that they discussed with Jesus what he was soon to do in Jerusalem.  I think that it is wonderful that in life Moses did not enter the promised land but here he is now, not only in the promised land but once again face to face with God, in the person of Jesus.

And so, Jesus conversed with Moses who is the embodiment of Jewish law and Elijah who is the towering figure in Jewish prophecy.  In many ways this image is the ultimate visual aid both for the way in which Jesus is the fulfilment of the law and the prophets, which is something I touched on a couple of weeks ago, but also for the special way in which Jesus supersedes that older authority as he voice of God the Father pronounces upon Jesus alone: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased, listen to him!

So the transfiguration shows us both an important continuity from the patriarchs and prophets but also clearly shows a vital discontinuity – in Jesus God is doing something new – Jesus is not a patriarch or a prophet but is God’s own Son and it is to him we should be listening.

And the words that God spoke to Jesus on the mountain:  “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased”  should also remind us of the same words spoken to Jesus at his baptism.

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.

But, what I also love about the accounts of the transfiguration is that in the midst of all the glowing radiance of God’s presence we still have the very human disciples.  We don’t know what James and John thought but good old Peter when faced not only with a transformed Jesus but also with two of the biggest figures from Israel’s history starts babbling away about putting up shelters for them.  And Peter’s inappropriate babbling should also make us wonder what we might do or say in similar circumstances – would we offer the transfigured Jesus a cup of tea or perhaps ask Moses if he is going anywhere nice for his holidays?

Are we prepared to drop our defences and really meet God at the level we need to be met?

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.  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.

Moses went from being a shepherd responding to the call of God in a burning bush to the leader of a nation entering the burning presence of God that covered a mountain.  If we respond faithfully in the small ways that God calls us then an exciting and transfiguring journey lies ahead – and that need never be routine or boring!