In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Transfiguration of Our Lord is one of those epiphanous moments – an episode where Jesus Christ is revealed as he truly is – not merely a fairly special man, or a marvellous teacher, or even a thoroughly good bloke, but he is shown to be God himself, revealed to us in all his glory. ‘Transfiguration’ in Greek is ‘Meta-morphos’ – from which we get metamorphosis – a change from one thing to another.
The Transfiguration was a marvellous experience for the closest of Jesus’ disciples, those privileged to see this revelation at first hand; and it was an experience which they wanted to go on forever. This is why Peter makes that rather embarrassing comment about making three tents for Moses, Elijah and Jesus – because if he sets up somewhere for them to stay then by the rules of Middle-Eastern hospitality, they would be required to remain until the host wished them to leave.
Few of us are privileged enough to have such a close, intimate experience of God. Few of us encounter directly the glory and power of God. It may appear like a fairy story, or the sort of marvellous experience that only happens to other people. But the experience of God in these epiphanies need not be so dramatic – God is to be found in the stillness and quietness of your own prayers, in the Eucharist, in the Rosary, in exposition of the blesséd sacrament – quiet prayer in the presence of the sacrament. God is to be experienced in the dark and the quiet as well as the bright mountain top, and that experience of God, with all the comfort, all the reassurance it offers is no less valid.
But what draws me to this episode is not the dramatic. At the end of the great experience, Jesus, Peter, James and John came down from the mountains and returned to the plains and the city. It would seem a little odd at first glance to concentrate on that text, rather than the glories that preceeded it, but this morning, this is what I want us to focus upon.
After the glorious vision, their glimpse of heaven, they had to return to their daily lives, however humdrum, however exciting, however ordinary, and they had to get on with the job in hand – being Jesus’s disciples.
Through encountering Christ in person, many in the towns and villages of Galillee, in the city of Jerusalem were changed, transformed, renewed. Many more in the diaspora and the cities of Greece and then Rome who never met the man were changed, inspired, revitalised and now we – we who are removed from the action by immense time and distance – are changed, invigorated, challenged and moved by the man who stood besides Moses and Elijah. But we can, and do see Jesus. We feel him. Here. In this very sacred space, and in that, we are changed.
The Mass offers us a Transfiguration, a metamorphosis, it offers us the bread and wine changed into the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Mass offers us the mountain-top experience in the beauty of liturgy and the glories of music. The Mass is the meeting point between normal human beings like Peter, James and John, like you and I, and with God Almighty.
And after the Mass… well, you just have to come down from the mountain, go home and get on with the job in hand – making the Yorkshire Puddings, and being Jesus’ disciples.
The key thing therefore, is not necessarily what happens on the mountain-top, as wonderful as it may be, but what that Transfiguration experience does for us the other days of the week.
The methods through which we get on with the difficult and demanding job of being one of Jesus’ disciples are written out for us in the reading: The Transfiguration Story in Luke has the commands: “Stand up”. “Do not be Afraid”, and in Matthew we have “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
Their experiences can feed our own worship, and together we can grow to worship God in a Mass that truly reflects his glory. We follow a Jesus who is not just for Sunday best, and not restricted to those who think themselves worthy of being a Christian, but we follow a Jesus who came to earth with the sole purpose of saving us all, regardless of how good or bad we think we are.
The Mass is at the heart of this: a working out of salvation in bread and wine, the people of God working together to sense the movement of God within them.
I passionately believe that what happens here, in the presence of God, what happens on that altar, through the grace of God has the power to transform, to transfigure – transfigure, change, metamorphosise, save us all. There is power in these sacraments, in the real presence of Christ among us.
The Mass is not therefore an optional experience. It is not a spectator sport, but the coming together of Priest and People and Almighty God at the sacrifice.
It is the stuff of your life lived out in the cities and the plains, away from the mountaintop. If you think that your Christian life can be expressed without the Mass, then my dear friends, you are very much mistaken, for this is the food for the journey, the well-spring of our faith, the completion of Christ’s saving work on earth until he comes in glory. The power of the Eucharist is the most powerful agent on earth, for nothing else has quite the power to enable, to transform, to transfigure, to save.
This is why I passionately believe that the mass, the holy communion, the eucharist – I don’t care what you call it, just accept that from my earliest upbringing in the church it has been Mass – the Mass is the centre of our worshipping lives here in our churches, why each week the Mass is celebrated not just on a Sunday, but through the week – at S. Mary’s on a Wednesday, at Shaugh Prior on a Thursday evening and weekly on a Friday in school, with young people and why I will be looking shortly to begin further experiences of worship in the Lord’s Supper for the very young and their parents. We place ourselves, all of us, into the hands of Almighty God through that most powerful act and the whole of our mission becomes a living proclamation of the saving power of Christ in this most wonderful, most mysterious, most unfathomable sacrament.
So, my dear friends in Christ, enjoy and participate: fill yourself here at this altar with the experience from the top of the Mountain, and then do like Peter, James and John and go back into the real world and get on with it.
“This is my Son, the Beloved… Listen to Him.” Amen.