2 Cor 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9

Last Sunday before Lent

St Barbara’s 11.02.2024

Rev Tulo Raistrick

Seeing things for the first time can be quite a revelation.

I remember coming out of the opticians as a 13 year old and marvelling that I could read the road signs. Everything that had unbeknown to me become blurred and fuzzy now took on a crystal clarity. I was so amazed by the world that had suddenly opened up before me I almost tripped over myself, not looking where I was going.

Or I remember my father, colour-blind all his life, talking in awe-struck terms of the day he went snorkelling and saw colours underwater he had never seen before.

Or you may have had that experience of looking through a microscope at school and suddenly realising for the first time that what you can see with the naked eye is not all there is to see, that there is an extraordinary depth, and quality and complexity to life that the power of our ordinary vision just does not enable us to see.

Our Gospel reading this morning touches on one of those moments when three of the disciples see reality in a deeper, truer way.

The build-up to the events that happen at the top of the mountain is significant. A few days earlier, Jesus had asked the disciples who they thought he was. Peter, boldly and bravely, had put his neck on the line – “You are the Christ, the Messiah”, he said. But Jesus’ response had left them worried and perturbed. He told them not to tell anyone, when of course surely the point of a Messiah was that everyone heard about him and came flocking to his banner. And stranger still, he told them he would be rejected by the religious authorities and killed. He also told them he would rise again after three days, but by this stage the disciples were so appalled by what Jesus was saying they couldn’t possibly take that in.

This was not what a messiah did. They rode their people to glory and victory, and vanquished the enemy forces. They certainly were not rejected by their own people to die some humiliating death. This is not what the disciples, or Israel, had been waiting for.

But the disciples were reading the scene with very limited vision. Their vision was focused on the surface level, on how things were from a purely earth-bound, secular perspective.

So Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain, and there, for the briefest of moments, they see Jesus for who he is truly is. They see him in a way they have never seen him before – transfigured, in dazzling white, alongside the two greatest figures in Israel’s history. Here is the Jesus that we thought about last week – the creator and re-creator of the world, the one who is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, the one in whom the world is held together.

It is as if the disciples have looked down a microscope or through a telescope and seen life at a whole level of reality they had never known existed. This Jesus, the Jesus who walked around their home town with them, who went fishing with them, who ate with them, is also the Son of God. The one exalted in the company of Moses and Elijah. The one whom God speaks of with love and intimacy.

The disciples are so amazed by what they see, they cannot comprehend it. Peter talks about building shelters – a fairly non-sensical suggestion – because he just can’t think straight. In fact, he is too frightened to know what to say.

I wonder, when was the last time we saw Jesus for who he really is? More than just a good moral teacher, more than an ethical example, but as the Son of God, full of glory and power, love and grace, revealing to us the fulness of God. When we read the gospels and see only a good man, we are barely scraping the surface of the reality that lies underneath.

When did we last tremble with awe like the disciples when he stilled the storm and calmed the waves? When did we last marvel when he raised a girl from the dead? When did we last cry at the thought that the Son of God, and all life, was moved to tears; or cry out in anguish before the one of all love nailed on a cross?

Over this Lent, we have the opportunity to encounter him again, to climb the mountain with him, that by His grace, he may reveal to each of us a deeper insight into the reality of his love and sacrifice. It is an opportunity not to be spurned or missed.

And the only instruction, the only word, the disciples are given in the midst of this extraordinary revelation, is simple: “This is my Son whom I love. Listen to him!”

It reminds me of the kind of advice I was given at a moment of heightened nervousness and anticipation. Before going into my finals exams at university, the culmination of four years work, a wise friend simply said to me: “Breathe deeply. Stay calm.” At that moment, any last minute exam techniques or crucial bits of knowledge, would have gone in one ear and out the next. But that advice was what I needed to hear.

And here, in this most extraordinary of moments, when the disciples are frightened and dumb-founded, God gives them this simplest of messages, “This is my Son whom I love. Listen to him.”

That is our task, our calling, too. Listening to Jesus.

The next few weeks of Lent provide us with a wonderful opportunity to listen to God. Here are some ways that you may find helpful:

  1. Come along to our Ash Wednesday services. Take time at the beginning of Lent to focus on Christ and our need for his forgivness.

2. Sign up for and use the daily devotion emails. This year, through the 40 days of Lent, we will be reading a small section of John’s Gospel each day, discovering more about Jesus – what he did, what he said, who he was. You can take just 5 minutes to pray the prayers, read the passage and reflect on the questions each day, or you can take much longer – up to you! The readings take us all the way through John’s gospel, climaxing at the Easter weekend with Jesus’ death and resurrection.

3. Commit to joining our church services every week. Even if you are away, join on-line, or watch back later. Throughout Lent our Sunday morning sermon series will be on Jesus’ last words to his disciples in the upper room the night before he died. Last words of people can be incredibly important and significant, words that we treasure and remember, and Jesus last words hold incredible power and poignancy.

4. Travel the Holy Week journey with us. Living the story of Jesus’ last week from Palm Sunday and then every day until Easter Sunday can help us to connect emotionally with the story in ways that may open our eyes even further to Christ’s love for us. Why don’t you book it into your diaries now – Palm Sunday and the stations of the cross in the evening, 7.30pm every evening from Monday to Thursday, then Good Friday at 2pm, and Easter Sunday at 5.45am and 10am.

5. Join a Lent study group. It can be really helpful to listen to one another and learn from each other. If you’re not already part of a home group think about joining the group at the vicarage starting on Tuesday 20th as we think about the events of Christ’s final week together and what it reveals to us about who Christ is. Or join the diocesan-wide course that is on-line.

6. Read and respond to the Lent Appeal emails. Each week there will be an email linking John’s gospel to the work of our mission partner Tearfund. By giving, we can come to understand better the abundant generosity of God for us.

These are just some of the ways we are offering as a church over the next few weeks, but of course there are many other ways. Tune into our 10am service later today to hear of other ways people find helpful.

God wants to reveal more of his reality to us. Let us be ready to listen.