Upon the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ
I have brought you today up to High Rock overlooking Bridgnorth. It’s a dramatic place above the river which gives a unique view of the town. It’s a place I have come to pray from time to time sometimes alone, sometimes with others. There is a bit of a hike to get here, but the view is one of my favourites.
In the Gospels we read of Jesus quite frequently going to deserted places, or mountains to pray, and its certainly true that you get a different perspective away from the crowds and the hubbub of life, and one which gives us something more of an overview from which we can contemplate the life and needs of our communities.
Of course today when this is released is the Festival of the Transfiguration when Jesus took three of his disciples, Peter, James and John up to a high place and there was transfigured before them, meeting with Moses and Elijah. In today’s gospel we hear it read in Luke’s account and it comes at a point when Jesus ministry has been so transformative in the lives of many people that thousands have been flocking to see him. He has taught them, fed them, and healed them, and understandably the crowds press in wanting more.
Yet Jesus knows that all this is nothing without the time he has with the Father as he prays, and it is at one of those moments that Peter has made his confession that Jesus is the Messiah. But it is at this point that Jesus takes his disciples away to warn them clearly of what is to come, and the suffering he must endure, and then and only then does this extraordinary transfiguration take place.
The foretelling of suffering frames the event, and it is in that light that we see Jesus, the suffering servant truly as he is, God’s own Son, radiant and glorious, the fulfilment of the Law and the culmination of the prophetic tradition of Israel represented in the two figures appearing with him.. It is understandable why the disciples want to dwell in the moment, indeed to prolong it indefinitely as they recognise the privilege they have in being witnesses, but it cannot be. They, like we, have work to do, a mission to undertake, and challenges to meet.
It puts me in mind of mountain tops I have stood on, enjoying the vastness of the landscape and the palpable presence of God, or of glorious moments lost in worship when, caught up in the moment there has been a foretaste of eternity, beautiful, transformative and memorable, and resourcing especially for the moments when some aspect of life has bitten back later! These are moments not to be forgotten, perhaps because we have allowed that time for God to speak into the white noise of our daily lives.
It is no accident then that as Jesus is overlooking the land from the mountaintop he then steps back into it, now beginning what will be his journey to Jerusalem, to confrontation and to crucifixion. Transfigured himself he re-engages that the world might be transformed, and the disciples who had the privilege of witnessing it accept the mission that he gives them to be leaders in that transformation. But it’s not without struggle from the very beginning. The first person he encounters is a boy with a demon who needs healing. Next the disciples are bickering among themselves, next a village refuses to receive him. It is as though this moment is designed to resource all that is coming next, both for Jesus and the disciples with him in order that they may be sustained, remembering when later all things seem lost.
Coming here to this vantage point reminds me as well that just as Jesus needed to withdraw to spend time with the Father, to pray and to prepare so to we need to recognise that apart from that same Source we find ourselves exhausted, wrung out and defeated. Coming to the mountain is not a self indulgence, but a recognition that we can only truly step out in ministry when remind ourselves that what we do is in Jesus name, and serving his purpose, for as I look over the town I can no none other than pray for its transformation to be a place of life and truth and justice.
And transformation is a struggle, because we do bump up against everything and everyone who benefits from the injustices we see today in each and every community we serve. The issues will be different, but the cause will be the same.
Today, as we celebrate the Transfiguration of Christ, let us pray that like those first disciples we will be empowered to begin and continue to seek the transformation of our communities across this diocese that they may come to see Him as He truly is.
Father in heaven, whose Son Jesus Christ was wonderfully transfigured before chosen witnesses upon the holy mountain, and spoke of the exodus he would achieve in Jerusalem:
Give us strength so to hear his voice and bear our cross that the world may come to see him as he is;
Who is alive alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.