Text: Luke 9:28-36
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Transfiguration of Our Lord is one of those epiphanous moments – an episode where Jesus Christ is revealed as he truly is – not merely a fairly special man, or a marvellous teacher, or even a thoroughly good bloke, but he is shown to be God himself, revealed to us in all his glory. ‘Transfiguration’ in Greek is ‘Meta-morphos’ – from which we get the word metamorphosis – a change from one thing to another.
The Transfiguration was a marvellous experience for the closest of Jesus’ disciples, those privileged to see this revelation at first hand; and it was an experience which they wanted to go on forever.
Have you ever had an experience which was so good that you wished it would never end: a walk in the forest in the spring, a brilliant concert or night out, a special moment with a special person – hands held in love? Time appears to stand still at those special moments, and outside of the bubble of specialness, well, frankly who cares what happens?
Peter is having just such an experience on the mountaintop: he never wants it to end: this is why he makes that rather embarrassing comment about making three tents for Moses, Elijah and Jesus – because if he sets up somewhere for them to stay, then by the rules of Middle-Eastern hospitality, they would be required to remain until the host wished them to leave.
Few of us are privileged enough to have such a close, intimate experience of God. Few of us encounter directly the glory and power of God. It may appear like a fairy story, or the sort of marvellous experience that only happens to other people. But the experience of God in these epiphanies need not be so dramatic – God is to be found in the stillness and quietness of your own prayers, in the Eucharist, in the Rosary, in exposition. God is to be experienced in the dark and the quiet as well as the bright mountain top, and that experience of God, with all the comfort, all the reassurance it offers is no less valid.
But what draws me to this episode is not the dramatic. At the end of the great experience, Jesus, Peter, James and John came down from the mountains and returned to the plains and the city.
After the glorious vision, their glimpse of heaven, they had to return to their daily lives, however humdrum, however exciting, however ordinary, and they had to get on with the job in hand – being Jesus’s disciples.
The Mass offers us a Transfiguration, a metamorphosis, a change from one thing to another. It offers us the bread and wine changed into the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Mass offers us the mountain-top experience in the beauty of liturgy and the glories of music. The Mass is the meeting point between normal human beings like Peter, James and John, like you and I, and with God Almighty.
And after the Mass… well, you just have to come down from the mountain, go home and get on with the job in hand – making the Sunday Lunch, and being Jesus’ disciples.
The key thing therefore, is not necessarily what happens on the mountain-top, as wonderful as it may be, but what that Transfiguration experience does for us the other days of the week.
And how do we get on with the difficult and demanding job of being one of Jesus’ disciples? It is clear from the reading: “This is my Son, Listen to Him.”
As we gather to share the sacred mysteries this morning, we see the fruit of our labours, and the continued hard work of committed members of the parish, pulling together to transform this building. You should have seen the team who gathered over the past week or so to remove these pews and unpack these chairs. Our special thanks should go to our Churchwardens: Tony, he who taketh away, and Margaret, she who tidieth up and rearranges afterwards. It is a sign of our commitment, our faith, our knowledge of the transforming power of Christ that this has happened so quickly, so well. Thank you all.
The temptation, however, is to see the building as an end in itself. The Church is not this building. The Church is the people within it, and perhaps more importantly, the people without this building. No matter what we do to make this building beautiful, comfortable, and modern; without a Christian welcome and a love of stranger, of outcast, of the maligned, we will not be living out the Gospel of love and inclusivity which Christ proclaimed.
No matter how lovely this building is, unless we take our love and inclusivity out into Elson, it will be worth nothing. The Church is not to be found here in this building, but in the Church Hall on a Friday Night in the midst of the youth club, the Church is to be found on the Corner of Elson Lane, in the Three Tuns, in the Junior and Infant Schools, in the homes of the elderly, the infirm, the anxious and the alone; and in all kinds of places where the people of God are encountered. We follow a Jesus who is not just for Sunday best, and not restricted to those who think themselves worthy of being a Christian, but we follow a Jesus who came to earth with the sole purpose of saving us all, regardless of how good or bad we think we are.
That work is not just for Mother Margaret or myself, but for all who seek to follow Christ. From the mountaintop to the plains and cities, we are sent to do God’s work in this place. All of us.
So, my dear friends, enjoy the experience of the Mass, fill yourself here at this altar with the experience from the top of the Mountain, and then do like Peter, James and John and go back into the real world and get on with it. As St Luke records: “This is my Son, the Beloved, Listen to Him.”