Published on Sun, 3 Mar 2019 12:00

Well, this is it, or nearly it. We reach the end of our time together. Six years which I have enjoyed immensely and which I hope you have too. I suppose that’s the thing about getting to know people - your life is changed. No matter where or what or who, something rubs off and you change, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. Sometimes gradually, sometimes very suddenly and unexpectedly. Sometimes for good, sometimes not. My life has changed over the last six years with you, all for the good, although inevitably there have have been painful times as well. But as we all know, it’s often through the painful times that we grow the most.

I chose the picture on today’s pew sheet because it shows the people who are largely forgotten or ignored in this story of the transfiguration of Jesus, and that’s the crowd. We hear all about Peter, James and John and the amazing experience they had up on the mountain top with Jesus, but we don’t hear much about the people left behind, the crowd. All those loyal supporters who followed Jesus but who weren’t singled out for special treatment. They weren’t part of the inner circle. That was reserved for the twelve chosen ones, and in this case, for just the three who were perhaps closest to Jesus, Peter, James and John. I do wonder how everyone else felt when they were passed over and just three were invited onto the mountain top, and even more when those three came down again and eventually reported their fantastic spiritual experience. What was it like to know you’d missed out? To know you weren’t considered special enough?

But maybe it wasn’t like that at all. Maybe when Jesus said he was going to climb the mountain yet again to pray, everyone groaned inwardly and thought, ‘I came here because I hoped to hear what you’re going to say. Now you’re just clearing off and leaving us. I could have stayed at home. And please don’t expect me to go up there with you. I’m tired, I haven’t slept for a week, I can't face all that climbing.’ Maybe they all kept their heads down in case they were picked out. And maybe Peter, James and John were the only volunteers.

In that case, the volunteers had a very unexpected and transforming experience themselves. Perhaps one of the reasons for moments of transfiguration is to have lasting effects upon the observers, which eventually rub off on their friends, upon those who hear about such moments.

The transfiguration of Jesus seems to have affected the disciples much more than it affected Jesus. Peter was so overwhelmed he wanted to wrap up the moment forever and enshrine it physically by building some memorial. But it seems that never happened. We're not told what Jesus or James or John thought about Peter's suggestion. But there's that telling little phrase: '…not knowing what he said.' which is added at the end of Peter's proposal, because of course, such spiritual highs are transient. You can’t take a selfie of a spiritual moment and put it on Facebook.

Even as Peter spoke, a cloud came over all of them, and they were afraid. Well, you would be, stuck up on a mountain in the fog. That would be terrifying and many a mountain climber’s life has been lost when the fog rolls in. But a voice came to them while they were in the cloud: "This is my son, my chosen. Listen to him." We don't know whether that dispelled the fear, or whether it increased the fear. But we do know that after this mind-blowing experience, none of the three disciples told anyone what they'd seen. It was such an amazing moment you'd have thought they might have wanted to shout it from the rooftops, tell anyone who'd listen. But they kept silence, at least initially. Presumably they told someone at some point or we wouldn’t have the story today.

Perhaps being in the presence of God has that kind of profound effect on you. Perhaps the depth of feeling and emotion is such that you can't speak about it. Putting those sorts of moments into words can sometimes destroy the memory, can somehow cheapen it, make it worthless.

And sometimes things go so deep, that you daren't bring them to mind for fear they might destroy you. Many men who saw terrible sights during the war, were quite unable ever to speak about those sights. And many adults who suffered abuse as children, are unable ever to verbalise their childhood sufferings.

Or perhaps the disciples weren't quite sure what had happened. Luke's gospel is the only one which tells us the disciples were heavy with sleep. Luke tells us it was when they awoke, that the disciples saw Jesus transfigured in glory with Moses and Elijah standing with him. Moses to represent the law and Elijah to represent the prophets. Perhaps Luke is implying it was a vision, a waking dream, and the disciples felt it wasn't quite real. Or perhaps they were afraid of ridicule if they related what they thought had happened.

Some scholars believe this story has been chronologically misplaced, and rightly belongs after the resurrection, as one of the resurrection appearances. Interestingly enough, that's where the rock opera 'Jesus Christ, Superstar' places it, and the story does seem to fit very comfortably as a post-resurrection story. It seems much more likely that Jesus would be meeting with Moses and Elijah, those long dead characters from the Old Testament, after his own death.

So why did the gospel writers include it here, before the death and resurrection of Jesus?

Perhaps the gospel writers see the transfiguration of Jesus as a precursor of the resurrection itself. The theme of the transfiguration seems to be that ordinary things, ordinary moments can be transformed by Jesus. The resurrection takes this theme one stage further, by showing that not only ordinary times, but also terrible times, black times, disasters, can be transformed by Jesus.

We too can see and experience transformation in fairly simple things.

The first baby in the family transforms the lives of the new parents and their wider family. A holiday can transform those who have been feeling jaded or run down. A kind word or a thoughtful act or unexpected good news can transfigure the day for the recipient. Spring sunshine can transfigure those who suffer from winter blues.

But all these different transformations, wonderful and delightful as they are, are transient. None of them last forever. The delightful new baby may become the difficult toddler. When the holiday ends it's back to the daily grind. Spring sunshine often changes to cold rain. Work, however much it's desired, can become commonplace or tedious, or tough and tiring. Friends retire and move away.

It's interesting that immediately after the transfiguration, before they come down from their mountaintop, a cloud descends upon the disciples and upon Jesus. 

Clouds so often follow life's transforming moments. After the highs come the lows. And sometimes the lows seem to go on forever. But it was in the cloud that the disciples discovered God. It was while they were covered in cloud, disorientated, confused, afraid, that God spoke to them and told them to trust in Jesus.

Whatever form life takes, whether it rains blows upon us or transports us to the heights, God is always present. The heights are given to us for our enjoyment and pleasure, and to imbue us with the strength to endure. And the clouds are times for listening to God and experiencing his presence.

Even for Jesus, the transfiguration was transient. It was after his death and resurrection that he was glorified forever, in a brilliant new life in a new dimension. And it's the same for us. Our transformations will always be transient, but resurrection is permanent.

When difficult and painful things happen, when the clouds form, we usually die a little inside. But providing we cling onto Jesus, and listen for God's voice within the cloud, we too will experience resurrection. God will bring something new out of the pain and misery, and we'll grow and change permanently through it.

Life is full of highs and lows, good times and bad times. We’ve walked together through some of these times and now we must part, but it seems to me that all times really do work together for good for those who love God.

Luke 9:28-36

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