On the Sunday before Lent begins we always hear in church about the Transfiguration. We hear about the time when Jesus went up a high mountain with his closest friends and how he looked startlingly different – his face changed and his clothes became dazzling white. Then Moses and Elijah, perhaps the greatest figures from the Old Testament, appear beside him and then a bright cloud comes down and the voice of God is heard saying, “This is my Son, my beloved, listen to him.”
When the Church puts together the readings for each Sunday (remember Fether Jerry and I don’t choose them – they are set by the wider church) it is thinking about the rhythm of the church year. We have seasons in the church – they are not spring, summer, autumn, winter; but Lent, Easter, Advent, Christmas as the main ones, with a long stretch called Trinity or ordinary time.
We are about to start the season called Lent this coming Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, and always in the church on the Sunday before we hear about this transformation of Jesus and its effect on his closest disciples. Lent is framed by two Sundays when the focus is on light and transformation. These Sundays are the Sunday next before Lent, Transfiguration Sunday, and of course Easter Sunday.
These Sundays have things in common.
They are both about Jesus. They are both about transformation. Jesus changes appearance in both. They are about glory and light. They are joyous but also mysterious.
In between them is the season of Lent, which is much more sombre. The hangings and vestments in church are purple, the flowers in church disappear, we don’t use the word Alleluia in any of the services, and other than on Maundy Thursday, we don’t sing or say the Gloria at any services.
We are sent into Lent by the glory of the transfiguration and met at the end by the glory of resurrection. It is as if Lent is a tunnel that we enter.
Most of you will know that Fr Jerry and I usually holiday in Crete, and on our drive from the airport to where we stay, we enter a tunnel which goes under the mountains. It is a long straight tunnel and of course the weather is usually brilliant sunshine, so we leave the bright light and enter this darkness of the tunnel, but can immediately see the light at the end of the tunnel, shining so brightly because of the amazing sunlight. This for me is like Lent. We go from light into darkness, to light, an even more brilliant light at the end.
The glory of today propels us into Lent and the glory of Easter Day awaits us at the other end. What we do in Lent needs to be framed by these two days and needs to help us experience God’s glory, draw nearer to Jesus and to hear what He is saying to us. The words of God on the mountain of Transfiguration “This is my Son, my Beloved, listen to him” propel us into Lent and the light of the Resurrection and the joyful words “He is Risen” await us at the end.
Now I want us all to do a bit of thinking this morning. Think about those words “this is my Son, the beloved, with whom I well pleased, listen to him.” Imagine you are one of those disciples on the mountain with Jesus, and you hear these words from God. It would be pretty terrifying actually hearing the voice of God, but it could also be life changing don’t you think. God tells you to listen to Jesus. What might it be that Jesus is saying to you that God wants you to listen to?
Jesus looked different at both the transfiguration and the resurrection, and it is good in Lent to think of things that will transform us personally – make us look and feel different – maybe not to others straight away but to ourselves and God. Things that will help us to live simpler lives, to be more generous, and be more Christ like. And it is also good to think of things we can do that will transform the world around us, make the world a better place, more full of the glory and light of Jesus.
We all know that our planet is in jeopardy. This year has already seen the most horrendous bush fires in Australia, and these last two weeks in our country we have seen rivers at their highest levels ever, and many people suffering from awful floods. There are parts of the world that will go under water, island groups like the Seychelles and countries like Bangladesh are particularly vulnerable; and there are parts of the world that will become uninhabitable because of high temperatures and lack of rain – it’s thought parts of Australia are in this category. Even in our own country some places will have to be abandoned. A lovely little place called Fairbourne in Wales is to be abandoned to nature by 2040. Its lovely sandy beach, miniature railway, little shops and its church are all places where we have memories as a family, but they will all disappear and be dismantled.
Climate change is real and destructive. If we are to limit the destruction then things in our lives and in the political will of every country on earth are going to have to change. Never was transformation more needed. What might Jesus be saying about this situation and what we should do?
This Lent the Church of England is setting us all a 40 day challenge to care better for the world God created. It is setting us a challenge to change the way we live and as a consequence to improve the chances of the world God created surviving. This is serious business. The challenge is for the 40 days we spend in the tunnel of Lent to be transformational personally and for our planet.
I want us all to think seriously about what we can do. Go on to the Church of England’s website and get the daily email challenge, buy the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent book “Say Yes to Life” by Ruth Valerio and read it! Or buy the booklets available very cheaply from the Church of England or Amazon – there is one for adults and one for children. Or even better come to our parish Lent Group on Wednesday evening, where we will be following the Church of England’s course, and sharing the challenge of looking after the world God gave us and which his son came to save.
The glory of the transfiguration inspires to seek transformation. We will do that personally and globally if we listen to Jesus. This Lent we seek to be reflective, to examine our own lives and the state of our world, and we seek to be agents of change in a world crying out for transformation and resurrection.