s080g02 Lockleys 10/2/02 Transfiguration
"This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid." And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, "Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead." Matthew 17.5-9
The feast of the Transfiguration is one of those critical points in Jesus' life. It is an incident which is recorded by each of the first three gospel writers, and even John has a transfiguration of sorts, though the location and circumstances are quite, quite different.
Unfortunately the Book of Common Prayer had the feast celebrated on August the 6th, which inevitably meant that it, like the feast of the Epiphany was celebrated on a Sunday very infrequently.
The Transfiguration was a turning point in Jesus' life, for it was after then that he consciously travelled the road to Jerusalem for that last fateful time. And so the first three year cycle of readings had Lent 2 to commemorate the event and the new RCL cycle has it on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, today. Either way it fits a bit more chronologically into the scheme of things and also raises it's importance in our minds -being celebrated each year.
We find that God speaks the same words as at the Baptism: "You are" or "This is" &endash; "my son". Again, I'm not sure if Jesus needed to be reassured to face the Cross, or if we need to continue to be reassured that he is - and we are - children of God.
And the story tells us that three chosen ones fall flat on their faces, and Jesus comes and lifts them to their feet. God never wants that primal dignity of humanity, to stand upright, to be taken away. We are not to cower, like the majority of the animal kingdom.
I often tell the story, on the feast of the Transfiguration, of my time at Kapunda. When I was visiting people out of Robertstown, I would go up a winding track up a steep ridge overlooking the town, to sit quietly in my car to have lunch, before continuing my visiting. I needed time apart, to clear my mind of the earlier conversations before embarking on more. From this elevated ridge, appropriately called "Inspiration Point", one could see for miles, south, east and north over the wide dusty plains, perhaps 20 miles in either direction. There, far below at the base of the ridge was the little town of Robertstown. And I realised that the founders of the town put the town where it should be. Despite the wonderful view from the top of the ridge, you wouldn't want to build there &endash; it was far too exposed to the wind. And life's like that. We all have our times of transfiguration, but "real life" happens in the times between these highlights.
So Peter wanted to remain on the mountain, to escape real life, to escape real people, perhaps it might even be said to escape the other nine disciples - to remain where it was very comfortable with Jesus alone.
But Jesus had to come down the mountain - for real life is with other people - and he lived for others. We too, for all we might like to worship God and escape the tensions common to the rest of humanity, are called by God out into the mass of humanity, all of whom are so sacred and precious that Jesus died for them. It is not just the disciples who needed to be lifted to their feet, but all of humanity need to know that they are meant to stand, not to cower. We are lifted to our feet by the knowledge of the Cross and resurrection being for us. Others will be lifted to their feet knowing the cross and resurrection was equally for them.
As I thought about Jesus picking up the disciples off the ground after witnessing the glory of the Almighty, I thought of myself, where I've often cowered, or been cowered, by the majesty and theological complexity of church doctrine. I have spent most of my life feeling inadequate - trying to understand the intricacies of the faith. And Jesus lifts us up and puts us on our feet. We are not meant to live lives worried about what the Church teaches, or what the Bible says, all the time. I suppose I am in some ways different being ordained, in that I have an obligation to hold to the discipline of the Church. I have always taken the promise to use the form of service according to the Book of Common Prayer and "no other except permitted by lawful authority", very seriously. It is only in very recent times I have altered what I considered to be the "proper" order of the service of Holy Communion, by having the greeting of peace at the beginning of the service rather than at the offertory.
I recall, many years ago, hearing Dolby, the person who invented the Dolby noise reduction system almost universally used in "hi-fi" sound systems I suppose prior to digital recording - being interviewed on radio. He said that had he gone to University and studied electronic engineering he would probably never have invented the system and made his fortune. Universities can tend to reward imitation, not lateral thinking. So too, Church membership can "reward" conformity rather than radical thought.
We all have a cross to bear and a unique and special ministry to exercise, and oddly enough the special ministry is exercised when we recognise the cross we bear and take it up willingly for others.
The wizard Gandalf says to Frodo, the possession of the ring of power can't be put away. One can't live wishing circumstances were otherwise or evading the task because others are clearly so much "more qualified". One just has to get on with the job. "You have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have". (p75)
After Jesus lifts the chosen three to their feet they have to go down the mountain, to the real world, because people in the real world need to be lifted to their feet as well as us. This is our task, not to rejoice in our "exalted status" as Christians, but to lift others to their feet also. The old saying that it's lonely at the top is not true for Christians. The top is meant to be crowded with all sorts and conditions of people. If we were meant to be exalted above the rest of humanity, our exaltation is inevitably at their expense.
And it is us, as we really are, who are lifted to our feet, not as we "hide behind" orthodoxy, Anglican or otherwise. It is you and I who God wants in the kingdom, not us dressed up in layers of clothing. I am reminded of Eustace in "The Voyage of the Dawn-Treader, who becomes a dragon. He becomes a dragon only as a logical extension of his fractiousness beforehand. The fractiousness was a result of his fear and insecurities. He finally realises that he needs others, and is prepared to have the defences he has put up between himself and others torn away. He finds himself, and he finds he is able to live without the defences. So we too are called to live and relate to others, without the bible, the church or the faith particularly in evidence.
One of my favourite passages is from a book called "Mister God, this is Anna" by Fynn and this passage is a piece of dialogue between Fynn and Anna, which goes: "'Not going to no Sunday school no more.' 'Why not?' ''Cos she don't teach you nuffink about Mister God.' 'Perhaps you don't listen properly.' 'I do, and she don't say nuffink.' 'You mean to say you don't learn anything?' 'Sometimes' 'Oh, that's good. What do you learn?' 'Sunday-school-Teacher is frightened.' 'What makes you say that sort of thing; how do you know that she's frightened?' 'Well, she won't let Mister God get bigger' 'How is it that Sunday-school Teacher won't let Mister God get bigger?' 'Mister God is big?' 'Yeah, Mister God is good and big.' 'And we're little.' 'Right enough, we're little.' 'And theres a big difference?' 'Yeah, and then some.' "if there wasn't no difference, it wouldn't be worth it, would it?' This confused me a little. I suppose I must have looked a bit puzzled, so she came again, sideways this time. 'If'n Mister God and me was the same size you couldn't tell, could you?' 'Yes,' I said. 'I see what you mean. If the difference is very big, then it stands to reason that Mister God is big.' 'Sometimes" she cautioned. It obviously wasn't as simple as that. In easy stages I was led to accept the fact that the bigger the difference between us and Mister God, the more Godlike Mister God became. At such a time when the distance was infinite, then would Mister God become absolute. 'What's all this got to do with Sunday-school Teacher? She certainly knows about the difference?' 'Oh yes'. nodded Anna. 'So what's the problem?' 'When I find out things it makes the difference bigger and Mister god gets bigger.' 'So?' 'Sunday-school Teacher makes the difference bigger but Mister God stays the same size. She's frightened.' 'Hey, hold on a tick. How come she makes the difference bigger and Mister God stays the same size?' I nearly lost the answer; it was one of those real 'give-away' lines. Tossed off so quietly. 'She just makes the people littler.' (p117) Of course I would not quote such things if I felt that much of religion in general is about making people littler not bigger.
God actually is in the business of seeking out all people and lifting all people up, so that they may no longer feel any need to cower under the burden of sin, real or imagined - under the misconception that they are unschooled and unable to understand - or whatever.
And I began thinking of the first couple, Adam and Eve, being unashamed of their nakedness, in the beginning. God loves us naked, certainly without clothes, but also without all those things that we invent to differentiate man from woman, tribe from tribe, religion from religion, race from race, rich from poor, saint from sinner ... All people are lifted up as they are, and the only ones who object are those that expect that it is only they who should be raised ...
Jesus lifted up the disciples, so all of humanity is lifted up, just as we are. The transfiguration celebrates not Jesus' solitary and transitory change of appearance on the high mountain long ago, but the eternal catholic transfiguration of all people, as God acknowledges the dignity of all humanity, just as we are.
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