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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's Sermon


26th February 2006

Fr David Shepherd

Sunday next before Lent

If you did a straw poll even among Christians I suspect the story of the Transfiguration would not be to the fore of many people’s faith. There is a Feast of the Transfiguration on the 6th of August, a date now associated with the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, but a feast likely to be overlooked tucked away as it is in the midst of the summer holidays. In the new calendar the story is also recalled just before the Lenten reflection on the Passion of Christ and thus fits in with its place in the life of Christ. But on the whole we don’t associate it with a date or a time. This is a good thing because the Transfiguration is not primarily about an event in time and space, rather it has to do with eternity.

‘Living for the present moment’, that is the aim of the Christian life. Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread and to take no thought for the morrow. Future anxiety should not feature in this, God will provide. The trouble is that at mere mortals we find it hard, if not impossible to live in this Christ like way. If the going is tough we instinctively look back to happier times in the past or to the future resolution of our present difficulties. Whether we tend to look back or forward will reflect our age and temperament. Either way, I am sure you will recognise the dilemma.

Today’s story of the Transfiguration given to us before Lent with its journey to the suffering of the Cross can assist us in this. The disciples are granted a vision of Jesus transfigured in prayer in the presence of the Father, ‘so that he became dazzling white’. For the disciples it was a moment of grace through which they received the revelation of Jesus as ‘the beloved’, one who fulfils the Law of Moses and the prophecy of Elijah. It is a moment of awe, fear and wonder that they attempt to cling on to by building three dwellings.

There are echoes of this in the story of Elisha and his master Elijah. There is the same fearful desire to hold on to the experience. Elisha is bewildered as Elijah is taken into heaven. ‘Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen’, he exclaims. There is no doubt that he has ‘seen something’ that can’t be expressed in words.

There is always a hidden quality about the things of faith. The gospel, St. Paul told the Corinthians, is veiled from the unbelievers who are perishing. They do not see the light of Christ and his glory. Elisha has to ‘see’ if he is to receive his double share of Elijah’s spirit. The inference is that it was difficult to see and that most did not see anything at all.

In Mark’s version of the transfiguration, Jesus told the disciples ‘to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.’ Therein lies the clue to living in the present moment. ‘Give us grace to perceive his glory’, we prayed in the collect. When we are granted that grace we are given a glimpse of the vision of the glory of God, of the splendour of the Risen Christ. It is something that is of eternity and therefore ever present. We can always come into the presence of the eternal God, we always are.

Because the Transfiguration gives a glimpse of eternal truth, the remembrance of it is not nostalgic. Rather it gives strength in the present moment. For the disciples it had a future orientation but only because it gave them a glimpse of something that already was, is, because eternal. The paradox of the Christian life is that it belongs both to time and eternity.

For the disciples the temporal aspect required them to follow Jesus to his Passion and death. The eternal aspect was nothing less than the participation in the Resurrection life of Jesus, just as we trust it is & will be for us. In uncertain times, with the possibility of dark days ahead, the awareness of the glory of God in our prayers can sustain us and help us to live out our Christian discipleship in the present moment. As we pray for healing, we can ask for grace to live in the present moment.

‘For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’

Amen

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