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Sunday next before Lent

21 February 2014

Exodus 24.12- end; 2 Peter 1.16-end; Matthew 17.1-9

 

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Almighty Father, whose Son was revealed in majesty before he suffered death upon the cross: give us grace to perceive his glory, that we may be strengthened to suffer with him and be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

ON THIS final Sunday before Lent, the collect prays us into a world where suffering and glory belong together, both for Jesus and for us. We pray to be conformed to the image of Christ; to become more Christ-like.

    Specifically, we ask for grace to perceive Christ's glory, and to be strengthened to suffer with him: let there be no doubt, there will be suffering. The collect, however, does not stop there, but envisages our being changed into God's likeness from glory to glory.

    Last week, we heard Paul's encouraging the Romans to wait patiently, because God's glory is to be revealed to us. He might have had this week's story of Moses in mind: it took seven days before God, having told Moses to wait, called to him out of the cloud, and God's glory was revealed. God was in no hurry.

    The transfiguration was the revelation of God's glory in Jesus Christ. Perhaps unexpectedly, however, it also included the appearance of Moses and Elijah, and was seen by three disciples. The author of the epistle also describes the eyewitness of Christ's majesty, when he received the honour and glory from the Father.

    Like Moses, these disciples had an extraordinary encounter with the holiness of God. God's impulse is to draw humans in to share his glory, an instinct that we hear time and again in the biblical story - from God's forlorn "Where are you?" to Adam (Genesis 3.9) to, ultimately, the ascension, when Christ took humanity into the heart of God.

    But why Moses and Elijah in particular? Traditionally, they represent the law and the prophets, which point to and were fulfilled in the coming of Christ. I wonder, however, whether it is also because both men had known the loneliness and suffering of fidelity to God, in the face of the disloyalty of their people. They were, therefore, able to strengthen Jesus at this pivotal moment in his life and ministry.

    Next week, we will be reminded that Jesus was vulnerable to the temptation to take short cuts to glory, while Matthew has just recorded Jesus's foretelling of his death and resurrection, and his call to the disciples to take up their cross and follow him (Matthew 16.21-28). Jesus knew the terrible cost of his calling, and perhaps, like us, needed to be strengthened by people who had proved God's faithfulness.

    Matthew refers to the disciples' fear when they heard the voice from the cloud (in Luke, the cloud itself caused the fear), and Jesus's response of touching them - so tactile and reassuring amid the ethereal glory and dazzling brightness - and speaking to them, telling them not to be afraid.

    Again, there are echoes of last week's readings, when Jesus repeatedly told the same disciples not to worry. Fear and worry are slightly different: fear is often a more instant, involuntary response to threat, whereas worry is more of a continuing condition of dis-ease. Both, however, share the same root, and both need the reassurance of God's present grace.

    So, as we tramp around in fear and worry, learning to wait with hope, we end this pre-Lenten season as we began it at Epiphany, assured of the revelation of God's glory in our world. However sharp our fear, in Jesus Christ, God's light and glory shine in the darkness. Truly: "The world is charged with the grandeur of God."

 

The light has come! Our world is changed

No more can darkness terrify,

The star shines out, Immanuel's sign

Emblazoned in the sable sky.

 

The light has come! The Son of God

Transfigured on the mountain stands,

God's glory seen by human eyes

Disturbs our peace, our hope expands.

 

The light has come! it seeks us out,

Unmasking secrets long concealed;

Then truths we know but have not faced

Are named and owned, by light revealed.

 

The light has come! It penetrates

So deep within where beauty lies;

From hidden and uncharted depths

The treasures of our darkness rise.

 

The light has come! Our world is charged

With glory dazzling, holy, true.

God's radiant and resplendent light

Transforms our lives, makes all things new.

 

© 1995 Rosalind Brown

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