Mark 9 vv 2 - 13 for the Transfiguration of Christ, 2012
This past week has been, for me, a time of seeing familiar things in a strange new way. I have seen old, familiar places looking strange with new buildings and new people changing the landscape. I have bought a new computer which operates in a completely new way and has opened up a whole new concept in technology from anything I could ever have imagined. It has made me gasp at its ingenuity and at the possibilities it has opened up of what might now be done in the future - things that even a week ago, were beyond my power to imagine.
And there was another example too, this time a person - an old friend, not seen for a while and now so familiar and yet so strange. He was someone I had trained with at Ridley Hall and, after all those years, he had finally been given his own parish (only one though, so I'm glad to see I'm still ahead of him.) On one level, he was the same man I had ever known. The same sparkle, the same sense of humour, the same huge generosity and disarming frankness - these were all still there. But at a very profound level he was very different. Now he was doing the job we had been training for all these years. Now he was the thing we had been waiting for and I saw him in a new light. Bearing his responsibility, his passion for his ministry and his care for his people, he appeared a different person to me. Of course, he was the same person, but now I saw him with his inner potential revealed. I saw what all those years of following God had done to him.
Now, all these things are going on in today's gospel reading, an excerpt from Mark's gospel, popularly known as the transfiguration. Peter, James and John see their familiar friend, Jesus, in a familiar place (Jesus was always taking them up mountains), but suddenly it's all startlingly different. He shines with an unworldly brightness (just as Moses once did when he encountered God on a mountain), and there alongside him is Moses and Elijah. And there is a voice in a cloud, a voice we have encountered before in Mark's gospel and saying almost the same thing: "This is my son, my beloved. Listen to him."
What is going on in this strange episode and what does it mean for us today?
Well, the first thing that is going on is that Peter, James and John clearly now recognise their friend Jesus to be the Messiah. More than that, they recognise God in him. Those words from the cloud, when we first heard them in Mark's gospel, were addressed only to Jesus and he took them to heart. And what Peter, James and John now see in Jesus is the product of his deep meditations on those words. Jesus has come to know his father thoroughly and to know what it is to be his deeply-loved Son. And now it shines forth in his being. And Jesus' father addresses those same words to Peter, James and John - and to us. "This is my Son, my deeply-loved Son." Jesus, is the one you've been waiting for for so long. Maybe you didn't expect to find him in such a familiar place, in such a familiar person, but he's the real thing nonetheless. So "listen to him."
The second thing that's going on is that Jesus is talking with Moses and Elijah, the two prophets who, more than any other define the Jewish people and their scriptures (our Old Testament). Again the message is clear. Jesus is the one that their work was all about. Everything they did and said builds up to this moment. Jesus is the fulfilment of the Hebrew scriptures. All those stories, all those prophecies, all that history has been building up to this moment. Jesus makes sense of it all. He is the ultimate interpretation of the Old Testament, he is the embodiment of the Chosen People, he is the complete revelation of God. Everything is now seen in a new light - through him.
And the third thing that is going on is that Peter, James and John are suddenly aware that they are in the presence of God. God himself is standing in front of them as real as you or me, as real as he was once described, walking in the garden in the cool of evening. And yes, there is another helpful clue Mark has left us to ensure we don't miss the significance of this event. All this, he tells us, took place "on the sixth day". Now, this isn't just a piece of mind-numbing detail put in to keep the interest of any chronometer anoraks who might be reading. It is a clue, intended to ring bells and make us think. What else happened "on the sixth day"? The last day of creation, the day on which God made man in his own image.
And that is exactly Mark is telling us is going on here. A new creation is being completed in Jesus. Here, before our eyes, is the new humanity. Human beings are re-created, once more in God's image.
So, now over to us. We too are surrounded by the familiar. It's Sunday morning again and you're in Thrimby church. You're singing the familiar hymns, saying the familiar words and surrounded by the familiar people. But can you see, in this very familiarity, the startling reality of God among us? Jesus is being transfigured before us again - in our worship, in our fellowship, in the bread and wine. He is here again, on this mountaintop, God among us, the one who fulfils and makes sense of our scriptures, our stories, our history and imbues it all with new meaning that makes us gasp in wonder and opens up new possibilities for the future that we could never have conceived; the one who embodies our new creation, our true selves re-made in the image of God.
And, as we now enter Lent, let us listen to him, draw ever closer to
him as he reveals himself to us, re-creating us in his image and let us
watch for his rising from the dead.