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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's sermon


1st August 2004

Fr David Shepherd

Trinity 8

'The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai'

'The appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain.'

With the lights off, on a dull day this church can be rather gloomy inside - a lot of dark brick - but occasionally it is transfigured.

The setting sun streams in through the West window and plays on the brick under the clerestory. It can seem that the lights are on. The colours of the bricks are revealed, reds, gold and blue.

We might say that the glory of the Lord fills his temple.

'Glory' is one of those special but over used Christian words. Our liturgy constantly refers to God's glory, so much so that we fail to notice. Think of the Gloria and the Sanctus &c. The late Michael Ramsey was always pointing to it in his sermons and writing.

In OT times the glory of the Lord was a terrifying thing, a devouring fire on the mountaintop, hidden by cloud. Only a few like Moses were permitted to see the splendour of God and live. God could only be approached through an intermediary like Moses. He was remote, to be feared, worshipped with awe.

In the NT the glory of God comes close in the person of Jesus. God is still to be worshipped with awe. Indeed there is still a proper fear of the Lord. But we are granted a glimpse of his glory.

St. John's Gospel is an account of the glory of God revealed in Christ. He records such signs of Jesus' glory as his Baptism, the wedding feast at Cana and his miracles, as well as his death on the cross. Richard Holloway publishes a series of addresses on it called 'Signs of Glory'.

Tucked away in August on the 6th is the Feast of the Transfiguration celebrating the special glimpse of his glory granted to Peter, James and John. In the West it has always been a rather neglected feast. The Eastern Church has always made more of it. Its liturgy reflects the glory of the transfigured Lord.

The story is told of the Russian tsar choosing orthodoxy because those sent to find a suitable new faith reported that at Constantinople they were 'taken to heaven' in the Liturgy.

In the new Calendar the transfiguration story is also read just before Lent reflecting its place in the Gospels. Just before Jesus set his face to Jerusalem to die, he received divine confirmation as the beloved son and his disciples, Peter, James & John witness his transfiguration. 'His face shone like the sun & his clothes became dazzling white.'

In his epistle St. Peter describes the full impact of that vision: - 'We had been eye witnesses', 'we ourselves heard'. And he tells his readers, 'You will do well to be attentive to this as a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.'
Those words were oft quoted on Victorian gravestones. The glimpse of glory is linked to suffering and death. At such times the common Christian experience is that we are granted a glimpse of glory. (It is fitting that Enid's funeral is to take place on the Feast of the Transfiguration) The saintly Anglican Bishop Gore who died in the 1930's is reported to have 'shone' on his death bed and repeated the words 'transcendent glory' before he died.

That linking of divine glory with the passion of Christ draws us deeply into the paschal mystery. It is the source of our hope in the face of suffering and death, that hope which is based on the resurrection of Our Lord.

In one of the collects, telling of the transfiguration, we pray: -
'Give us grace to perceive his glory, that we might be strengthened to suffer with him and be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory.'

When we truly pray that, when we make it the very heart of our prayer we are enabled to live and to die and to rise again, to see and reflect the Glory of God and to see it in one another, because as Irenaeus said the 'glory of God is a man fully alive'.

Amen

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Last updated 07/08/04 16:00 Author: David Shepherd