Summary: 10-15 sermon on the Revised Common Lectionary readings for the Sunday Before Lent, Year C.
We set tremendous store on first impressions. We can’t really help it, it’s all part of the human condition. That first impression may be based upon something as small as a name, or something about the visual appearance. Whether or not I have shaved today, whether my shoes are clean. Every so often these first impressions catch us out. The accent of the speaker isn’t what we expect, the story in the paper doesn’t reflect the reality, or the book’s contents don’t match the cover.
And all the readings this morning pick up on the importance of things that are beyond our sight: the existence and reality of the invisible. A country you might say, just as real as the seen.
One thing I find so encouraging about the disciples is how long it takes them to work out what’s going on with Jesus. Who he is, what his mission is. And if you remember that the first gospel wasn’t even written until 20 – 30 years after the first Easter it gives you some idea of how long it really took them to piece together how this extraordinary man, Jesus, could also be God himself.
No wonder that they are dazed and confused by what happens on the mountain. The teacher, friend and prophet that they are only really just beginning to understand undergoes this miraculous transformation. A change to his face (although we’re not told quite what) and a change to his clothing. Jewish readers would probably think straight away about how angels were said to appear, and even about that mysterious character from the OT – the angel of the Lord, the nearest way of seeing God. In that brief time on the mountain to see Jesus is to see the full and unhidden glory of God.
And not Jesus alone in all his splendour, but two others. The two greatest figures of the Jewish faith, there with him, talking with him. Moses, the servant God chose to bring his people out of Egypt. The one he revealed the covenant through, the one he told his name. The OT even goes so far as to say that God spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. Now, once again Moses is seen in the presence of the glory of God.
The other, of course, is Elijah. The greatest prophet, the one who never died, but was taken by God up into heaven. Elijah was the one that the Jews of Jesus’ time, and many now, believed must come again before the Messiah would. Even today in Jewish households around the world there is a place set at the Passover table for Elijah.
Moses and Elijah, the two greatest figures in the OT from a Jewish perspective, and yet they defer to Jesus. They come to stand and talk in the presence of God incarnate, revealed in his full glory. The bringer of the old covenant meeting with the bringer of the new. The herald of the coming of God’s chosen one meeting him there on the mountain.
And if that’s not enough for the drowsy disciples, the enveloping cloud, the symbol and reality of God’s presence, enfolds them all. Just like Moses on Mount Sinai. The presence of the fullness of God. No wonder they were afraid! And the very voice of God “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
To all appearances before and after it was just another mountain. No different from any other. Part of the normal created order, always there. But suddenly in the midst of the ordinary world and in the presence of Jesus everything is changed. Heaven touches earth and for a short time the glory of God is visible. Did heaven “descend”, the mountain get “lifted up?” No, it’s just that the curtain between the two was opened and you could see into the heavenly. It’s not the touching place that’s only there for a short time, just the visibility.
The use an example from experience: the fullness of the parish is never absent. It doesn’t cease to exist when you pass out of sight of the rec, or over the river. You just can’t see it. Neither does the presence of the spiritual world. We just don’t see it, and often don’t look for it.
The saddest thing is that so often we don’t even really remember the closeness of the spiritual world either. And I say “we” because I include myself. All the daily stresses of living, all the mundane burdens, hide it, weigh us down and we forget. We forget that there are things beyond our immediate sight. But the presence of God has not left.