Sunday next before Lent
"He was transfigured before them."
This week’s Gospel reading contains no words from Jesus himself. He is at the very centre of a major event, yet he doesn’t make any comment except to give an instruction to his disciples, telling them not to talk about it for the time being. So if it is not Jesus words, it is the event itself which must speak to us this morning.
The Bible tells us that the creation of light was Gods first move in the whole creative process. Light is a creative force, but it can be foe as well as friend. I could think of a few examples.
For the person suffering from migraine, light may increase the headache agony. The flashlight of a torch can, for a moment, blind us. The laser beam which can be the surgeons instrument of healing can in other hands be an offensive weapon. Laser pens are being targeted at aircraft and temporarily blinding the pilots.
The full glory of God is more than human eyesight can safely stand. We are told that Moses' face was shining after a meeting with God and when he came down from the mountain he put on a veil to safeguard the eyesight of those who looked at him. It would seem then that even at second hand the glory of God has to be treated with care.
In the gospel account, Jesus takes his closest friends to the top of a mountain. There, for a moment, they see their friend Jesus from Nazareth in a new light. Moses and Elijah come to talk with him. He is bathed in a glorious radiance one moment but the experience is only for a while. Moses and Elijah disappear. The light fades. Back to normal once more.
Peter, James and John recognise that they have witnessed a moment of special privilege. In a unique way they saw the human Jesus revealed to them as the divine Jesus.
One of the unique attributes of being human is that we are able to have experiences which lift us out of ourselves and put us on another plane. There are moments when we are especially receptive. Those who love music may be transported by the inspired performance of a particular piece. Those who are sensitive to the visual arts may be captivated by a picture, a sculpture, or a building. Those with an ear for words may find that a poem speaks to them. All of us may be touched by some special experience such as the birth of a child, or something spectacular in the natural world. Things which inexplicably move us to tears – or just stop us in our tracks for a moment in time.
But it is in the very nature of these experiences that they do not last. They may affect us permanently, but they are themselves transient, just fleeting. It was like that for Peter, James and John they couldn’t hold on to the moment, they had to leave the hilltop. The memory of what had happened would be with them for ever. Peter mentions it years later in his letter. ‘Were we not with him on the mountain.. but they had to go down, the nitty-gritty world of everyday life was waiting for them at the foot of the mountain.
What about us?
Just at the time when our private prayers and our corporate worship may be going through a difficult patch, a dry time - perhaps they seem arid, repetitive, lifeless - suddenly there's a spark. All at once, perhaps for no very obvious reason, something has set a light to our spiritual touch paper. Perhaps it was the reading itself, or a hymn line, a joyful acclamation, perhaps it was in the silence. It may have been receiving communion or even something in a sermon - No matter. It happens, and we find ourselves back on track again..
Yes - there is indeed somebody on the other end of the line - prayer becomes a conversation. Acts of Holy Communion, which for several weeks may have seemed more duty-driven than invigorating, suddenly come to life. "The body of Christ... the blood of Christ..." for me! We catch a glimpse.
The important thing is we should take the glimpse, however fleeting, with us when we move on. It will help us in the black dog days, cheer us when we are feeling down, give us light when all around seems dark.
In the words of a very old hymn:
"'Tis good, Lord, to be here!
Yet we may not remain;
But since thou bid'st us leave the mount
Come with us to the plain."