Sunday next Before Lent Matthew 17 1-9
I have preached on the Transfiguration on numerous occasions so there was the temptation to pull out an old sermon but I thought there must be something new in this text so here it is!...
All the family had a good laugh when Mum put salt instead of sugar in her favourite chocolate sponge pudding desert. Aged eight, Lizzie found it particularly hilarious. Many years later, when Lizzie was married with her own children, there was a family was gathering at her house for Sunday lunch. After they had tucked into a delicious roast lunch, with a flourish Lizzie produced a chocolate sponge pudding. She couldn’t resist having a dig at her mother: “Mum, do you remember the time you put salt instead of sugar in your sponge pudding?” she asked. But Molly, shaking her head, had clearly forgotten all about it.
Memory can play tricks on us. We have probably all had the experience of walking into a room and forgetting what we went in there for in the first place. Occasionally, not being able to remember something is a way in which memory – or rather the lack of it – can protect us. Some things – an imagined slight or hurt, a childhood grievance, a gauche faux pas – are best forgotten. And every once in a while, memory helps us by screening out an incident that is too painful for us to remember. We see this in post-traumatic stress victims from horrific situations. It can often be years before a memory can be talked about and any healing begin.
In today’s Gospel reading, Matthew tells us of the transfiguration of Jesus in some detail, recording the words of the voice that speaks from the cloud. ‘This is my Son, the beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ Peter’s own account of this event is set out in his letter, which we heard in our second reading. It is a shorter summary of the event but it has the merit of being an eyewitness account. Peter speaks of the majesty of Jesus and records the words of the heavenly voice, but with one singular difference – he omits the important last words that Matthew includes, “listen to him!”
Matthew’s Gospel places the account of the transfiguration six days after Peter’s declaration, on the road to Caesarea Philippi; Jesus had asked the disciples who people thought he was, and more to the point who did they think he was. Peter, quick a flash stated that Jesus was “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” This was the catalyst for Jesus to begin to talk to the disciples about his coming suffering, death and resurrection. This was too much for Peter to take, and his protests draw a sharp rebuke from Jesus. Jesus told the disciples this was going to happen, nothing would stop his death and added that anyone who would follow him must take up their cross. This was devastating for Peter, who could not let himself believe what Jesus was saying.
As we shall see in the coming weeks of Lent, in the events that make up the Church’s story of Holy Week and Easter, Peter does not emerge with great credit. At the Last Supper he refuses to allow Jesus to wash his feet, in the garden of Gethsemane he falls asleep, cuts off the ear of a High Priest, and in the high priest’s courtyard he denies knowing Jesus. Peter may have heard Jesus but he clearly hasn’t listened, he hadn’t allowed the truth to affect him
Memory can play tricks on us. Perhaps Peter’s omission of those words “listen to him!” – was prompted by painful memories of the times when he had failed to listen to Jesus, and had let him down.
As Lent approaches we, like the disciples, are preparing to make a journey to Jerusalem with Jesus. Like them, we’ll hear hard truths – about the nature of faith, commitment and self-sacrifice. Like Peter, I am sure we will find some of them too much to bear. But God wants us to persist, to hang in there and, above all, this Lent, to “listen to him” – to listen to Jesus, for Jesus will speak to us afresh of our lives of faith and service.
Some of us had an introduction to listening to Jesus at St. Lawrence yesterday. It is not easy to be quiet, to shut out the noise and clamour of our lives. It takes time to discern the voice of Jesus and it takes courage to do what the voice asks. The will of God is not always what we had on our wish list!
Lent is not the same film that we rerun every year, not a film we watch grudgingly with tired, cynical eyes. Each Lent is new and different. We are a year older; we have another year of experience; our faith has either grown, wavered or even diminished; there have been births, illnesses and deaths, marriages, divorces, successes and failures. We are not the people we were this Sunday last year or the people we will be twelve months from now – but it is to us, the people we are today that Jesus speaks.
We do not know what the Lent journey will hold for us as a church, or as individuals. We may choose to ignore the words, we may even dare to ‘listen to him. ’The words of Jesus may not be comfortable, but they will contain hope. Through the darkness of life there is always a glimmer of light, the light of the resurrection. For no matter how dark and hopeless things may seem, God will bring light, life and hope.
Some of us will share together thoughts from the archbishop’s book ‘Dethroning Mammon’ and examine the priorities in our lives; I am sure there will be difficult moments when we ask the questions about who is in charge of our lives. It is that assurance of God with us, that allows us to dare to go up to Jerusalem again, that allows us to study together, and to find courage to relive the events of Holy Week and above all to “listen to him”.