Last Sunday before Lent
St Barbara’s 15.02.15
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 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 the is 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 or 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 need to hear. Before a crucial football match at school, the teacher simply said “Go out and enjoy yourselves.” After all, that was the whole point of playing.
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.
As we prepare for the start of Lent, let me suggest some ways in which you may like to listen to Jesus:
Give yourself a realistic time each day to be quiet and still, and ask Jesus to speak to you. This may be two minutes or ten minutes, or half an hour. But give yourself time in which you stop, and are still, and can listen. Some of you may like to do this in silence; others may find a piece of music will help focus your thoughts.
You may like to simply repeat a very simple phrase over and over, as you are walking the dog, or walking into town, or sitting drinking a cup of tea, and allow the words to gradually go deep within. A phrase many have used for centuries is the prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
You may like to read a gospel over the course of Lent, maybe pausing after each story, reading it again, and listening to what words or thoughts resonate with your spirit, that capture your attention.
And you may like to ask God to help you be alert to what he may be saying to you through your daily life: your conversations with others, what you see in nature, or in the news.
God wants to reveal more of his reality to us. Let us be ready to listen.
If you have ever enjoyed mountain walking, you will know the joy of scaling the heights, and feeling like you are on top of the world. On a beautiful day you may try to stay on the heights for as long as you can walking from peak to peak, delighting in the views, the freedom. But you know that at some point, you will have to descend. You can’t stay at the top of the mountain for ever.
The disciples, having their eyes opened to the new reality of who Jesus was, must have found it difficult to descend from their mountain. Maybe that was why Peter suggested building shelters. Maybe he wanted to make their experience permanent.
We too may find ourselves reluctant to move on. Maybe we can think in our own lives of times when we have touched on those deeper realities – when our eyes have been opened to seeing our faith, seeing Jesus, in a deeper way. The temptation can be to try and stay there, trying to re-create the externals of that experience again and again.