Sunday Next Before Lent
Introduction and Call to Worship
Our Diocesan vision calls on us to transform Church and transform lives. All transformation begins and ends with Jesus our Lord whose very transfiguration atop a mountain shines into our lives today through our liturgy, our encounter with Christ present among us.
First Reading Exodus 34:29-35
Moses has spent forty days and nights with God on Mount Sinai receiving the Law. Now he returns to his people with God’s commandments.
Second Reading 2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2
Paul has been arguing that the new covenant brought in by Christ supersedes the old Mosaic one and that the ministry of the Spirit has greater glory than that of the Law.
Gospel Reading Luke 9:28-36 [37-43a]
Jesus has been teaching his disciples that he must suffer, die and rise again. Now some of them get a taste of the glory that will be Christ’s once his suffering is complete.
HOMILY “Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’” (Luke 9:35)
According to an old Celtic saying, heaven and earth are only three feet apart but the distance between them is even shorter in so-called “thin places.” A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and we may well catch a glimpse of the glory of God. Thin places brim with energy and transformation, where heaven and earth unite. In the Eucharist we experience this sense of transformation, as heaven and earth are joined in one song, ‘Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory!’ St Mary’s Church is such a place, where the veil is thin and lives are transformed.
Perhaps you know of, or have experienced, another thin place where you have felt God’s presence, or in some way been closer to the Lord. It could have been in another place of prayer like a cathedral or, by contrast, natural surroundings; up on the downs or walking through woods; away on Pilgrimage at Walsingham, the Holy Land or Iona which is traditionally one of the ‘thin places.’ You may be drawn back to such places time after time. These holy places of worship and encounter have an extraordinary impact in renewing us for the rest of our life and work, the “thick” places, to which we must always return. It is in those day to day contexts that we then bring transformation for others that they may also experience the living God we love and worship here.
Up a mountain, Peter James and John experience this sense of transformation – a thin place where heaven and earth unite. Our Lord’s three closest disciples witness his glorious transfiguration alongside the appearance of two great historical figures in Israel’s story, Moses and Elijah no less. Jesus’ transfiguration is a moment of great revelation, as he shines bright like the sun. For the disciples, they are in a ‘thin place’. The glory of heaven is revealed on earth, and this must have been a fearsome and frightening sight! The hymn writer J Armitage Robinson (1858-1933) picks up the excitement of the disciples in the place of revelation, “’Tis good, Lord, to be here!” (NEH178) Indeed, it is always good to be in the presence of the Lord. Yet the transfiguration is no mere spiritual spectacle designed to dazzle; it shines with significance and purpose. A week earlier, Peter had declared his recognition of Jesus as the Messiah, God’s anointed one. Now, on the mountain, the very voice of God affirms Jesus’ identity and authority. The presence of Moses, God’s lawgiver, recalls the past exodus of God’s people led out of servitude in Egypt. Elijah, representing God’s prophets, points ahead in foretelling of the completion of God’s deliverance which will be accomplished upon the Cross. Even more revelation is to come with our Lord’s glorious resurrection. The disciples are given a glimpse of Jesus’ risen glory, to be veiled from sight (just like the cloud atop the mountain) by the thick darkness of the cross.
In this thin place of transfiguration glory is revealed and we also see a reminder that the sorrows to come, the journey through Lent to Holy Week and the Cross, will not be the whole story. Thin places, such as the Eucharist, touch us and strengthen our faith – just as the real presence of Christ transfigured on top of the mountain must have warmed those at the heart of the drama as something deeply sacramental challenges them from within, their senses set on fire. All the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ transfiguration are followed by the distressing episode, where the other disciples have been unable to deliver a boy convulsed by an evil spirit’s grip. As God’s Son is transfigured among holy company on the mountain, another only son is disfigured by evil in the valley below. We are reminded that those touching places of heaven, are but for a short time. We must return to the world. Indeed, our Lord and his disciples return from the mount of transfiguration to find a scene of despair. The rest of the disciples and his followers feel separated from their teacher at a time of need and powerless to heal in his name.
We can feel like that also, when we are apart from the sacrament, the very presence of Christ in the Eucharist that feeds our hearts and connects us to heaven. But friends, God’s glory does not stay on the remote mountaintop. God is at work with us, in us, in the thick of it, in places of suffering, death and isolation, challenge and failure. Jesus longs to heal and make whole. In Psalm 23 we read: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Once in a thin place, up a mountain, experiencing the ‘high’ of God’s transfiguration, there is only one way and that is back down again to the reality of life and the struggles of daily living. Here in Church we catch a glimpse of the holiness of heaven, and it is awesome. Once received, we need to take this hope out into our daily living; into the action of the everyday, so that the transformation we have experienced may be shared with others and the very presence of Christ may just touch others’ lives also. God has pioneered the way through the deepest of valleys and promises to be with us always, whatever spiritual terrain we walk in. Amen.
‘Thin places’ are where the veil between earth and heaven is lifted.
Troubles, struggles and challenges can feel like a cloud that descends.
Jesus’ transfiguration is a high point – a thin place – but he and the disciples must return to the path that leads down to the Cross.
In the Eucharist we see heaven and earth touch and Christ fills us with his very presence. We take this out into the world that we may be fed and sustained, even in times of darkness, and that others may experience transformation also.