Sermon: Sunday next Before Lent, Year A
Text: Matthew 17:1-9
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: “Stand up”. “Do not be Afraid” (as recorded in the Transfiguration story of St Luke). “This is my Son, Listen to Him.”
I have not so far spoken openly of the Christian Youth Camps that I have been involved in, but as I am sure you can sense, I see them as a relevant, even essential part of my ministry, both here and to the wider church. 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 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 wonderous 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.
So, enjoy the experience of the Mass, 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.