Sunday Next Before Lent
Introduction and Call to Worship
We come to worship the God who transfigures our lives and enables us to talk to him, face to face. Let us come into God’s presence with confidence and joy.
First Reading Exodus 24:12-18
God calls Moses up a high mountain, covered in God’s glory.
Second Reading 2 Peter 1:16-21
Peter reminds his hearers that he was an eyewitness as God glorified Jesus.
Gospel Matthew 17:1-9
Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a mountain, where they witness his transfiguration.
HOMILY “and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with
him I am well pleased; listen to him!”” (Matthew 17:5)
How are you at listening? Now I don’t mean that casual hearing what people are saying, or tuning into the radio or television while doing something else. I mean actually listening, paying full attention and taking in what someone else is saying. Because the truth be known, it is not always easy to listen well. Yet it is something that God says we must do! We must listen to Jesus!
The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 17:1–9, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28–36) describe the Transfiguration of Jesus. Our Lord leads three of his closest disciples, Peter, James and John up a mountain (the Mount of Transfiguration) to pray, when Jesus begins to shine with bright rays of light. Then two of the greatest Old Testament heroes appear either side of Jesus - Moses and Elijah no less, and he speaks with them – one may assume that as their voices or conversation are not recorded that they are listening to Jesus. Then, if all of that was not enough, mirroring his own baptism, a voice from heaven speaks, calling Jesus "Son" and commanding the disciples to “listen to him!” The great theologian, Thomas Aquinas, considered the Transfiguration "the greatest miracle" in that it complemented Jesus’ baptism and showed the perfection of life in Heaven.
This year (A in the Common Lectionary) we are focussed on Matthew’s Gospel, and his account of the Transfiguration is a pivotal moment for his Gospel and the setting on the mountain is presented as the point where human nature meets God; the meeting place for the temporal and the eternal, with Jesus himself as the connecting point, revealed to three witnesses: Peter, James and John. They would have known the Hebrew scriptures well hence Peter’s understanding of what is going on and his desire to make tents for their meeting, one for each. Things become more challenging as the cloud descends – and then the voice that speaks. If we are really to enter the cloud with the disciples, we must surely follow the instructions of that heavenly voice and be open to listening to Jesus.
Matthew wishes to place all this excitement in context: Moses and Elijah are the scriptures personified and they are the Law and the prophets, the great tradition that points to the work of God who saves his people and builds his kingdom. They stand here and point to Jesus, the one we are to listen to, the new relationship revealed to humanity. They affirm him as Lord and the heart of what God has been doing throughout history, and then they go away again, leaving Jesus alone, standing as the culmination of the scriptures. From the Old Testament, 1 Kings 19, we find Elijah encountered God on the mountain. He is there because King Ahab is filled with anger against him. Moses was up the mountain on behalf of others, pleading with God for the people who were erring and straying ‘like lost sheep’ (BCP) and worse still they had reverted to idol worship. For Jesus, too, the mountain of transfiguration is a temporary respite, and he knows it: it is a stage on the way to the cross. Yet the mountain experience also mirrors his Baptism. We hear again the words of the Father’s love and affirmation of his Son, just as they were heard at the river Jordan and they are words of confirmation of Jesus’ mission. After his baptism, Jesus had to go into the desert and face temptation and now, after his transfiguration, Jesus must go to the cross and face the power of evil again.
Jesus had told the disciples that he wanted to go and pray. So, they trek up to this high point where clouds can sweep in and change everything in minutes. The mountain top can be the pinnacle of beauty – a high point with stunning views – but also deadly and dangerous. Faith can seem like such a summit too. We can feel ourselves weary from our daily lives, trudging up ever higher hurdles. Harder still, having arrived at the summit, we must allow ourselves to be enveloped by this terrifying cloud and to gaze upon the face of Christ as it is transfigured, just as his disciples had to watch on in awe, wonder and fear. But amid this fear there is also change and that is followed by the word from heaven, “Listen”.
Are we good at listening to Jesus? Let us pause for a moment and think. Do we do what God commanded from the clouds, and listen to the voice of Jesus? Here at St Mary’s Church in Thorpe we are entering a period when we need to listen very carefully to what Jesus is saying to us, as we long for our church life to be spiritually and physically transformed; as we face a time of many challenges, not least such a high level of sickness among some in our community while we also strive to teach the faith and transform our church and transform lives too.
At this stage in our journey together we really need to listen to what God is saying to us here, through his Son our Lord Jesus Christ and be guided by his Spirit. Friends in faith, it is through prayer that we look upon the face of Christ and discover ourselves to be loved by God, forgiven our failings and transformed by his creative glory. By looking outwards, to the world around us, the community of Thorpe in all its diversity, our faces can shine with prayer, and our presence transform the lives of many - we may be transformed, and offer transformation.
The promise of this story is that, like Christ, our faces too can be transfigured by prayer. So too can the challenges that we face as a community if we allow God’s spirit to light our path. So in all that we are about at St Mary’s, may we pray, and “Listen to Him!” Amen.
Matthew’s account of the transfiguration is full of references to the Old Testament.
Moses and Elijah point to the fact that Jesus is the fulfilment of the scriptures.
Life has many challenges – highs and lows - we know that we are God’s beloved children, whether we are feeling close to God or not.
We must prioritise our listening to Jesus – in prayer and bible study. He will guide us through the cloud, past the death of the cross to the new life of heaven.