Sunday 7th February, 2015
A moment can mean so much. A moment can change so much.
A moment of compassion can change another person’s day. A smile from a stranger can create a connection which can lead to friendship. A moment’s carelessness, or a thoughtless word, can have far reaching consequences too.
Sometimes the significance of the moment is clear in that moment: the moment your eyes first meet and you know that the person before you is going to be deeply special in your life, the moment a child is born the moment a diagnosis is received. But equally, many moments pass and we are unaware of their significance, only realising later that something you did, or something you said made a difference to another person.
And there are other times when you know, in the moment, that something significant is happening, but it takes a long time after for the full significance to be understood and appreciated. There are times when we know our lives are being changed, but we cannot, in that moment, fully know how. A wedding, a time so full of hope, but also of uncertainty, might be one such moment. A baptism might be another.
Neither of these moments in life are destinations. Both, rather, are turning points, when our lives shift course and take a different path, one whose route and destination we may try to predict, but cannot know until we walk it.
Another moment like that was the Transfiguration. That’s what we call the event Luke described in the portion of his Gospel Nan read to us this morning. It is an inadequate name, a name conjured to describe a fleeting moment, a unique event never seen before or since. It is a mysterious event. It draws us in, even if we will never fully understand it.
Whatever happened, what is interesting to me is the reaction of Peter, James and John, the disciples who witnessed it. They understood one thing right away. They understood that what they saw, whatever it was, was significant. Beyond that, they were completely clueless. It was a moment whose significance only gradually began to unfold.
They nearly missed it though. They were very sleepy, just like they were to be in the garden of Gethsemane as Jesus prayed on the night before he died. I think Luke wants us to make that connection. Their sleeping in Gethsemane was about missing the significance of that moment, as they had so often missed the significance of Jesus’ talk of his own death.
It is only by looking back from beyond the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection that the meaning of the Transfiguration begins to emerge; that we and the disciples begin to see Jesus as the fulfilment of the Law given to Moses; that we see Jesus as the fulfilment of the promise that God would intervene decisively in creation, the promise communicated through the prophets, represented in this story by Elijah.
It is only in the light of the resurrection, that the radiance of Christ on the mountain of the Transfiguration is seen to be a revelation of his divine glory, a glimpse of the truth that Jesus is God.
Did the disciples fully understand this? Can we? I doubt it. The Transfiguration is a glimpse of God who is beyond our full comprehension, but whose mystery only serves to draw us towards him.
Today, we are celebrating a double baptism, a mother and her son. Whenever we celebrate a baptism, or Holy Communion, I experience something terribly hard to define or describe. I am in the most extraordinarily privileged position, as an ordained minister, of enacting, before you and with you, the sacred mysteries of our faith. These are moments which we cannot fully understand, yet they are moments freighted with significance. They are moments which change our lives, yet in the moment we cannot necessarily imagine how. They are moments in which God is glimpsed, incorporating us, through his Son, into his life; mysteries which draw us closer to God.
Because of the baptisms this morning, I hesitated over how much of the Gospel we should read. At first, it didn’t seem appropriate to read about a deeply suffering child and a parent, frantic in his helplessness. Somehow, that seem to introduce a jarring note into a moment of joy, thanksgiving and hope.
But without reading on, without hearing about the foot of the mountain as well as about the top, this story does not make so much sense. Without the story of the suffering boy, what goes before would remain simply a moment of awe and mystery. But that is neither the whole story of faith, not its purpose.
We who are called, in faith, through the waters of baptism, into awareness of and relationship with the loving yet mysterious God shown to us by Christ, cannot remain for ever on the mountaintop, for ever in the moment of awe. Special moments, be they the once and once only Transfiguration, or the once in a lifetime moment of baptism, or the occasional celebration of Communion, or the weekly gathering to hear God’s word, are there to reveal God to us, to change us by that revelation, and then to send us out, out to where children suffer, out to where parents are helpless, out to where life is real and raw and gritty and painful, for that is where God wants us and that is where God is.
The moment of Transfiguration on the top of the mountain prepared the disciples for life at the bottom of it, for mission. Our encounters with God do likewise.
Peter, James and John received a transformative glimpse of the Son of God on the mountain top. But it was to be only after another sleep deprived night, on another hill, that Christ was to be fully revealed to them, arrayed, not in dazzling robes, but crowned with thorns and hung on a cross. This is what makes our faith authentic. In Christ, God is not only the God of glory, of mystery, of awe. God is the God of deepest suffering too, whose love for us is so deep there is nowhere he will not go to be with us, no suffering too great he will not endure it with us.