Here is the second of Father Simon’s sermons. This one he preached on the Sunday before Lent, also known as Transfiguration Sunday.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration, well no, we don’t actually, but from today’s readings one could be forgiven for thinking that this was that feast!
In the OT reading, we hear of Elijah and Elisha, and how Elijah is whisked up to heaven in a whirlwind as the two are separated by a chariot of fire, we hear Paul say “For it is the God who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”.
What did the disciples expect when they set off with Jesus that afternoon? Perhaps they hoped for an intimate conversation among the four of them? Perhaps a chance to talk him out of that strange, scary stuff he had been saying about suffering and dying, about saving their lives by losing them?
What do you expect from Jesus? Are you waiting for him to come to you, or are you willing to take that first step toward him?
Of course, whatever it was that Peter and John and James expected, they got much more than they bargained for: a dazzling experience of the holy, an encounter with the transcendent, Christ transfigured before their very eyes. Biblical scholar Eduard Schweitzer has said that: “for a brief moment the curtain… is drawn aside,” and the disciples are “allowed to see in Jesus something of the glory of God and [God’s] kingdom, of that other life to which human eyes are otherwise blind.”
But the disciples on the mountain not only saw a vision; they also heard God’s voice coming out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.”
I think that sadly we tend to hear that voice rarely these days, when members of the church hear and heed those things Christ has said: Love one another. Forgive, as God has forgiven you. Follow me, then the voice can be heard, but how often do we actually listen to what is being said?
At that first transfiguration, Peter had an idea: “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
Do you know, I can really identify with Peter in this, mountaintop experiences are gifts, whole and complete in themselves, gifts such as a marriage where the love and delight stay kindled through the years, children, friends old or new, a job that we enjoy doing and that contributes to the welfare of others, good retirement years.
All of these things are wonderful gifts from God, gifts meant to be savoured and enjoyed, to be awed or to be humbled by.
But if we build a booth to them, erect a frame around them and enshrine them, we can end up worshiping those moments or memories or persons to the extent that they become a hindrance, a stumbling block or even idolatry – rather than an unmerited gift from God and a resource for service to others.
We have choices about how to respond to the mountaintop transfiguration events in our lives. We can ruin them with “if onlys'” (if only I could stay here longer; if only things would never change; if only I could relive that experience). We can reminisce about our experiences, caressing and massaging them as an excuse to disengage from the world. Or we can allow them to prepare us for what God calls us to do next.
God’s response to Peter is clear: “Jesus is more than a prophet like Moses. He is my own Son. And he is more than Elijah, the one portrayed as a rescuer of sufferers and a restorer of Israel. Jesus is my chosen instrument, my chosen servant, for all the nations.
No booth building here! In him, I myself have chosen to pitch a tent with people, dwell with them and restore them to myself.”
In the transfiguration, God invites us to listen in again on Jesus’ conversation with Moses and Elijah. Luke says that what they were talking about is Jesus’ departure, which he was soon to accomplish in Jerusalem. In other words, Moses and Elijah and Jesus were discussing Jesus’ impending death. The Greek word translated as “departure” is actually exodus. They were discussing Jesus’ crucifixion, his exodus or exit from this world.
There is more. With Jesus’ exodus he was rescuing all of us, we who are God’s people, out of slavery; by releasing us from all those things that have an unholy hold on us — work or money or death — and by placing his own blood on the doorposts of our lives.
The disciples were however still speaking of a God who protects His people from enemies and anxieties by leading them as a pillar of cloud or of fire. In Christ, this God “triumphs gloriously” over our enemies and over sin and death and whatever else separates us from Him. These things are drowned in the waters of our baptism even as God brings us safely to the other side.
This talk about Jesus’ upcoming exodus suggests that disciples — then and now — should live as God’s people did on the night of the Passover. They were not weighed down with sleep or other concerns, but listened attentively to what God was doing in the world.
Listen to Jesus, God says. We will hear Jesus saying that he will be with us in the wilderness and in all the exits and exoduses of our lives.
But I think every bit as important as going up that mountain is what happens when the disciples come down again?
How did they communicate what they saw and heard to those who had not been up on that mountain? How did they share the experience with disciples who had stayed below?
And how do we communicate our epiphany, our view of the transfiguration or the other mountaintop experiences that God gives us?
Luke tells us that the disciples “kept silent” about the transfiguration and “told no one any of the things they had seen.” Maybe that’s our clue. Perhaps what we are being told is that we shouldn’t just talk about it, we shouldn’t just gossip about it, or tell people that they “should have been there.”
Maybe we are being told that the best way to tell the story of the transfigured Christ is to serve the people who appear in our path, those who are desperate for release from the things that seize them and maul them and dash them to the ground.
We should then, live our lives in the manner of our Lord Jesus Christ, so when next we climb that mountain to be nearer to our God, let our actions speak louder than mere words – when we tell of our own mountain top experience.