Exodus 24.12-end 2 Peter 1.16-2 Matthew 17.1-9
The story of the Transfiguration is a familiar one; it tells of the revelation of Christ’s glory at the end of the age and fittingly it is on a mountain, echoing the encounters with God of both Moses and Elijah on the mountains of the deserts of the ancient world – Moses with his face veiled against the overpowering light of the Almighty and Elijah tucked into a crevice on the mountainside, hearing the whispered voice of God not in earthquake, wind and fire but in the sound of sheer silence.
Here, Jesus is seen in the presence of Peter, James and John talking to Moses and Elijah representing the law and the prophets respectively. The cloud overshadows them, the same cloud that descended over Mount Sinai as the Israelites wondered in the wilderness; the voice of God thunders out the acclamation, this is my Son, the beloved; with him I am well-pleased – words that were heard at his baptism. And in addition, the simple command: Listen to him.
It is the high point of the gospel so far, an Epiphany moment when the veil separating heaven from earth is lifted to give us all a glimpse of the truth. Small wonder the disciples were overcome with fear and small wonder that Peter, on seeing Moses and Elijah, typically blurts out his offer of making three tents. We may wonder what he was thinking of – it may well be that he is remembering the Old Testament prophecy that when the Messianic age comes the children of Israel will live in tents – or it could be that he wants to give some permanence to this visionary moment. Whatever is behind his offer, it is totally misplaced – and it is only when he is privileged to hear God’s voice that he realises the significance of what he is seeing. For far from Jesus entering into his glory at this point in time, he now knows that Jesus’ prophecy of the suffering Messiah, his constant teaching that he must die and rise again, is in fact the will of God. The vision on the mountain-top, the dazzling of the uncreated light, the transfiguration of his Master, is a foretelling of what will be.
The trouble with bright light, however, as Peter found out, is that it can be so dazzling that we become disorientated, confused, rather like a rabbit caught in the full glare of the headlights. I think we found this at first with the new lighting (at Wymering). So accustomed were we to groping about in Stygian gloom that it was difficult to cope with all this new-found brightness, of the sacred spaces of our beloved church suddenly under the spotlight – East window, reredos, altars, lectern, pulpit and font and so on brought into the light; as we discovered a few weeks ago, not simply that we may see a little better and therefore fulfil some health and safety requirements, but to illuminate those parts of the church which gives us energy, which highlight what drives us, the significance of word and sacrament in a Eucharistic community dedicated to the two blessed apostles on whom the church of Christ was built – and both of them who experienced a dramatic encounter with the blazing, life-giving light from heaven.
And it’s also true, as we have discovered, that the power of the lighting showed up things we rather hoped were hidden – dusty corners, cobwebs, ladybird nests, long-forgotten debris and clutter which needed attention. And so it is with the light of heaven illuminating our lives. Dazzling, unnerving, yes, and yet a flooding of the light of love, encouraging us to cherish that which is good and to begin to eradicate that which gets in the way of our discipleship.
The lighting here is made possible by the faith and generosity of those gone before, notably Mollie Bass whose legacy has funded the project and to whose memory it is dedicated. And this morning we also remember those whose gifts are enriching our worship, the plaque dedicating the organ in memory of CBD Smith and all who loved music and this church and the thurible stand in memory of dear Edna Wiltshire. It is the witness of those gone by, those who have neither turned away from the light nor failed to face the challenges of the dark places which have led to us all being here today, gathered in this beautiful church as people have done for the past nine hundred years and more, to give thanks to God for all the good things he gives us.
And because we stand on the shoulders of so many, then it is incumbent on us to keep that light shining, that others in generations to come may behold the light of Christ shining in this place.
A verse from the letter to the Hebrews informed our ongoing project to make our lovely church even more welcoming and accessible: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels unaware. And this isn’t simply about one project, this is all that we are striving to do in responding to God’s mission in this small, ancient part of his Kingdom. Our Lord Jesus Christ was proclaimed as the Beloved Son in the glorious light on that Mountain-top and we are urged to Listen to him! Let us pray that by God’s grace we may move on into a bright future, illuminated by the light of divine love and ready to entertain angels – however they may present themselves to us.
In our reading from Peter’s letter this morning, he refers to this amazing experience when teaching his followers about the need to listen properly to the message of the apostles, to learn from those who were witness to Christ’s earthly ministry. We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, he tells them, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. He is reminding us all that following Christ is neither a mere intellectual exercise nor a matter of following a set of rules – it is about our own personal relationship with Christ and through him with the Father.
We may not all go up a mountain and see Christ talking to Moses and Elijah, in or out of their booths, but there are all sorts of occasions throughout our lives when that veil does indeed wear thin, when we do catch glimpses of that glory. It could be in the breathtaking beauty of the natural world, in the eyes of a newborn child, in those precious moments when a loved one passes, in countless little events that become beacons of light during our journeys of faith.
And nowhere are we more aware of the closeness of the Father to his people than in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, where we encounter the Risen Christ in all his glory. We may not be physically dazzled by uncreated light, but we know that as the bread and the wine are transformed in these holy mysteries so we will be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are held together in Our Lord’s healing love; in that wholeness we are all of us affirmed as beloved children of the same heavenly Father. And as we have listened to his word, we ourselves in that transformation are equipped to leave here with that uncreated light flooding our lives. And by God’s grace, we march out in the light of Christ, ready to reveal his glory in the world. Amen.