This is a mysterious and curious story (Matthew 17:1-9). A story which is sometimes hard for us to imagine. The story of the Transfiguration is one of the mobile festivals of the church, that is, there are several dates on which it can be celebrated (now on the Sunday before Lent, on the Second Sunday of Lent or on August the 6th).
It is a story that shows us in words and pictures that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine - both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. And it is important to be reminded of this as we prepare to travel with Jesus through his last days that Jesus was frail human flesh as well as the divine one enfleshed; that he experienced life and death as we do and in a way that opened the doors to eternity for all of us.
We are also probably familiar with the symbolism of Moses and Elijah – the great law giver and the prophet who was taken up directly to heaven. So this is a story that reminds us Jesus is the fulfilment of the law and the prophets. Which is another timely reminder as we prepare for the journey to Easter. Lent and Easter is all about Jesus but it is also the fulfilment and continuation of God’s relationship with humanity since the beginning.
But where are we in the story? I think we are with Peter who wants to build three dwellings so the holy ones can stay like this forever. Isn’t that what we tend to do? When something wonderful, beautiful out of this world happens we don’t want to go back to the mundane and the profane – we want to stay in the numinous moment. And yet Jesus knows that they – he and the disciples - all needed to descend the mountain and get on with the work of their lives.
And so do we. I hope that most here have had some mountain top experiences – be they mystical encounters with shiny beings, or angelic songs that have come unbidden, or voices and visions, or moments of ecstasy, or just deep joy and/or peace in the presence of beauty and truth and grace. These moments are sometimes overtly religious and life changing, others are moments in which nature shares gifts of grace and pleasure that restore and renew us. We probably didn’t want them to end or were in no hurry for them to fade. And yet they did and we then went on with life. Hopefully with the resonance of those moments reminding us that there is more to life than what the eye can detect on an ordinary day.
And so in a sense we are given this taste before the work of Lent begins. We are invited to drink deeply of the knowledge that this Jesus is the shining one, the anointed one, the divine made flesh, and then to allow this knowledge to stay in the background of our thoughts as we prepare to travel with him his last days and to experience his passion for us. Maybe without this knowledge it would be too terrible, too pointless, too overwhelming.
And it is like this in much of life. After falling in love we spend a life time learn how to be loving. After the honeymoon the work of living together. After the mystical vision or voice a long life of faithful service and study. After the first exhilarating moments of discovery a life of toil to mine the seam of gold and to make real what was glimpsed in a moment.
We glimpse that Jesus is the holy one of God but unless we take that insight down the mountain and into the everyday it means little. For Jesus seems to be teaching that insight and personal rapture are not an ends in themselves.
Jesus was always teaching the coming of the kingdom of God which by definition is communal. Our experience of encounter may be as intensely personal as it can get and yet it is also one of the most universal and connecting experiences we can have. And out of the sublimely personal experience comes the conviction that all may have, indeed need, this experience of love and inclusion. And while we cannot force feed anyone the experience of encounter we can invite and encourage, and share the outworkings of that encounter with others: our renewed desire for peace and justice, the deep source of life that inspires and feeds compassion.
As we will be reminded over Lent the true fast is to seek justice and practice compassion – it is not just a personal test of courage and conviction between Jesus and me even though the discipline of fasting, increased prayer and alms giving has inspired and purified many believers over the centuries. But if it just a test of wills then it is missing the point. We fast to give up distractions - not create them, we fast to gain in compassion for the hungry – not to demonstrate our righteousness, and we fast to learn dependence on God – not to prove our will power.
So as we prepare for this Lenten journey let us remember those moments when we have glimpsed the true nature of Jesus, let us remember those moments when we have experienced the grandeur of God revealed in nature and in others, let us take our awe and fear and excitement (and even our reluctance) down the mountain and be ready for the encounter of the divine in the wilderness, on the road to Jerusalem, in the garden of Gethsemane and the cruel afternoon of Calvary to the new dawn of Easter. It is always the journey through life as it is toward life as it is becoming. Let us make ready.
Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ, come.