Sermon: Lent 2, Year B
Text: Mark 9:2-10
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. 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.
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 Mark we have “This is my Son, Listen to Him.”
“This is my Son, Listen to Him.”
Many of you are now aware of the involvement of myself in a number of Christian Youth Camps, and I am sure you can sense that I see them as a relevant, even essential part of my ministry, both here and to the wider church. This year, I have been asked to be one of the principal preachers at the May festival – a festival for more than 600 young people and as I am sure you will agree – quite a scary prospect for which I will desperately need your prayers.
For the hundreds of young people who gather for the Chichester Diocese Festivals in May and in the first week of the Summer holidays, and the many more who come to a small village in Norfolk for the National Youth Pilgrimage to Walsingham, it is like a Transfiguration experience, as we come away from our parishes, gather together as eager disciples and are given a glimpse of the glory of God in lively and exciting worship, in fun and fellowship, prayer and games, opportunity to encounter God and to study his word and meet with hundreds of other Christians. It is truly a mountaintop experience, and it can be seen in the excitement and enthusiasm of the many young people I and others have helped along this journey over nearly a decade. If you yourselves were to witness any part of this, you would see why I put in so much work into these each year and why it is such a crucial element of the Church’s mission: it is why I ask you to release me each year for this important work and to pray that young people in this parish will be able to go to them and experience this transfigurative experience themselves.
And after the week of camp, well, just like the disciples, the young people have to come down from that wondrous experience, and return to the cities and the plains, to their own churches, and not be beaten into conforming, but to get on with the job in hand of changing and enthusing us, teaching us from their transfiguration experiences, for they have so much to teach us all.
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. 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 – not just the lives of young people, but the lives of 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 something that you can show your approval or disapproval of the minister conducting the service by coming or not coming. 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 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 is the centre of our worshipping lives here at St Thomas the Apostle, why we begin our PCC meetings and our Annual Meeting with mass, and why if you are coming to the meeting, you should come to the Mass that precedes it, and why we proclaim the saving power of Christ through 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.”