A glimpse of the timeless

by Feb 11, 2024Sermons

Mark 9:2-9

The Transfiguration

I remember as a child, sitting on the floor in a pew, with my paper and pen drawing pictures, imagining stories while my parents prayed next to me on a Sunday morning. Every now and again, in the stillness of that All Saints, I would suddenly have this sense right in the core of my body, of God’s presence there in that place.

Each year on the last Sunday before Lent we hear this story of the Transfiguration of Jesus. Interestingly this is not the feast of the Transfiguration – that happens in August – today is not about celebrating this event in the calendar. It is none the less intentionally chosen for us three days before we begin the austerity of Lent and prepare for the passion, the death of Jesus on the cross. From Wednesday most of the colour and beauty of this building will be covered up as we deny ourselves these images made to express and point to the Glory of God. So too will our language change. Certain prayers will be introduced, while the Gloria which we sing and the word Alleluia will be silenced until we reach Easter. And here we have a story with such brightness and light that Jesus’ clothes are more dazzling white than anyone on earth could bleach them.

There is something about this story of the Transfiguration which is echoed in the story of Jesus passion we will hear in Holy Week – as Jesus and his disciples go to the garden of Gethsemane he takes with him Peter, James and John, as he becomes distressed and agitated in his prayer – aware of what is coming his way and even asks the Father to take away from him the death he is about to face. This along with the way we receive it – indicates that these stories are like bookends. Today’s Gospel giving us a glimpse of what is to come. And the passion ending with Jesus being resurrected in a way which makes him almost unrecognisable to even his closest followers, transfigured by glory such that his body is mystically able to pass through walls. There is a line of thought which rather beautifully suggests that this moment of Jesus’ transfiguration is a singularity event – one which transcends time. The idea being that Moses and Elijah who appear speaking to Jesus are not coming from heaven, but rather that this moment coincides with the moments when Moses and Elijah themselves climb mountains to commune with God. That James and John and Peter are witnessing the moment when Moses comes up and speaks to God on the mountain, and when Elijah hears God in a whisper that Peter, James and John, have been taken out of time in this instant and seen time folded on itself, and the Glory of Jesus’ divinity shining out. We are told Moses’ face had to be veiled when he came down the mountain, shining so from his encounter with the dazzling brilliance of God that it was too much for the Hebrew people to witness. Peter wants to stay in this place outside of time, ‘it is good for us to be here’ he suggests dwelling places for them to live outside of time. But without a word from Jesus he is rebuffed. The father’s voice, seemingly linking this moment of Jesus’ transfiguration with Jesus’ baptism, when he said: ‘You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.’

Peter, James and John are given a glimpse of Jesus’ glory that will be fully shown in his sacrifice on the cross and in his resurrection. And as suddenly as it started they are alone with Jesus. The same Jesus as they knew before, only now perhaps they recognise him better. But they are told not to tell anyone about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. This experience – what they had seen – they were meant to hold onto as a gift – they had been chosen as witnesses. They had this glimpse of what was to come. In a way we receive this story in our lectionary this week much as Jesus disciples were meant to –  as a glimpse of Christ in his glory, for us to hold onto through this time a lent of austerity and self-denial. Like a sight of the hope that we live by. Of Jesus’ Easter glory. For those who have had a mystical encounter with God, who have found themselves in a thin place where God’s presence was palpable, they hold onto these memories of the moment when they felt fully alive in the presence of God in times of doubt and loss of faith. Which, in a world overshadowed with the impact of hate, greed and vengeance is never far away.

However, Jesus tells the disciples several times about his death and resurrection between now and that evening in the garden of Gethsemane. And yet when it comes to his death they are afraid and lost – Peter denies Jesus, even after the resurrection when they are told to go and tell people what has happened they hide and tell nobody. So don’t be hard on yourself if there are times and moments when this image of Jesus’ transfiguration, or the moment when you knew the presence of God, feels like it is too remote, too long ago, too insignificant, to keep your faith alive in the midst of the sorrow of this world Though it is in those moments when the rhythms of our spiritual discipline can keep us going until God reveals what is intended for us next.  That is why we are specifically encouraged to practice spiritual discipline during Lent – to help keep us going when our faith falters.

So what are the moments when you have witnessed the transfigured glory of Jesus.
What are the moments you have felt the presence of God. Take a moment now to recall those moments, those times. And as you do think of how you can bring that moment when you need it most.

The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams

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