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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.
2 Corinthians 4.3-6
Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
Post Communion Prayer
we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ:
may we who are partakers at his table
reflect his life in word and deed,
that all the world may know his power to change and save.
This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Given present restrictions, we are not able to go to Dartmoor – it doesn’t count as ‘local’ under lockdown restrictions. Only if we lived as close as Bovey Tracey, according to one report on the local BBC TV news, would the police look tolerantly on driving to Haytor for our permitted exercise, or to walk the dog. That is a pity, for the view from such high places is very therapeutic and allows you to relate, in 3-D, the places marked out in 2-D on your Ordnance Survey maps. From Haytor South Devon, from Haldon down into the South Hams is laid out before you: the estuaries of the Teign and Dart and the expanse of Torbay more-or-less at your feet. Meldon Hill, above Chagford is another such high place affording extensive views over Mid and North Devon, but is equally currently out-of bounds for us. We might still be allowed Raddon Top or Cadbury Castle, both within five miles – Sam and I must get there as soon as weather permits.
The Gospel reading set for today tells of Jesus, Peter, James and John going for a mountain walk. Tradition would suggest Mount Tabor, between Nazareth and the Jordan Valley but, although it stands above the surrounding plain, at only 1800 feet it fails the usual standard of 2000 feet for a mountain. Besides, as the summit was crowned by a town, it was hardly a place for them to go ‘apart, by themselves’. A more likely contender, which is also much closer to the previously recorded events in the Gospel as being near Ceasarea Philippi, is Mount Hermon at 9000 feet looming over the border with Syria and the upper Jordan Valley. There the four of them would be much more likely to be alone.
The event described in the Gospel fits neatly with the immediately preceding passages in Mark 8.
When Jesus and his disciples were ‘in the region of Ceasarea Philippi’ (Matthew 16:1):
– he asked them ‘Who do people say I am?’, and they say John the Baptist (who by this time had been beheaded by order of Herod Antipas), Elijah or one of the prophets; then he presses them ‘Who do you say I am?’ Replying on behalf of his fellows, Peter, in a moment of divine illumination, says ‘You are the Christ’. (Mark 8:27-29)
– Jesus then goes on to describe his future suffering, death and resurrection – but Peter refuses to accept this and is roundly condemned by his Master ‘You do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men.’ That previous moment of openness to divine inspiration has passed and Peter is thinking only in human terms. (Mark 8:33)
Jesus then goes on to say: ‘…some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power’ (Mark 9:1).
There on the mountain the three disciples see things more clearly:
– the transfiguration was a revelation of the glory of the Son of God both in what the disciples saw: ‘his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light’ (Matthew 17:2); and in what they heard ‘This is my Son, the Beloved’ (Mark 9:7);
– there is confirmation of the future path he will tread in the words reported of the conversation with Moses and Elijah – the representative figures of the Law and the Prophets – ‘they spoke about the exodus (departure) he was about to bring to fulfilment in Jerusalem’ (Luke 9:31) and in the emphasis in the words heard from the cloud, ‘Listen to him’ (Mark 9:7) over-riding the reluctance to take him at his word displayed by Peter.
– they are encouraged as they go onward with Jesus to Jerusalem and what awaits him there.
But why does the lectionary give us this passage on the Sunday next before Lent? The Feast of the Transfiguration is celebrated on 6th August, when one of the parallel passages from the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) will be set. As we look forward to Lent, that period of penitential preparation leading to the Passion of Christ, to Good Friday ……… and, yes, eventually to Easter we too can be encouraged just as Peter, James and John, dismayed as they had been by Jesus’ prediction of his suffering and death, were given the opportunity to look beyond that.
The Collect for today speaks of:
‘……(the) Son ……. revealed in majesty before he suffered death upon the cross’
going on to pray for:
‘…….grace to perceive his glory that we may be strengthened to suffer with him and be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory’.
As we go on into Lent there is a sort of symmetry reached on the Third Sunday when the Collect tells of the:
‘….Son (who) went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified’.
Revelation of glory – in the Transfiguration – precedes suffering and death on the cross, which then leads on the joy and entry into the glory through the Resurrection. We need to hold these things together.
On the night of 3rd April 1968 – the night before his assassination – Martin Luther King said:
‘I want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up the mountain. And I’ve looked over, I’ve seen the promised land ….. So I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man’
The symbol of the mountain, the high place, is a powerful one. It is a place where we can make more sense of our world, whether the physical world mapped out below, or the spiritual world of God’s truths. But like those disciples we cannot stay there. Many years ago we spent a two centre holiday in Switzerland, the first week being at Rigi Kaltbad, a mountain resort on the Rigi Massif high above the Wierwaldstattersee – Lake Lucerne to the English. High on the mountain we could dimly discern the lake below us, but the high peaks around us were completely obscured by thick – albeit white – clouds, although we could explore the high paths in glorious sunshine. Our second week was to be spent in the Bernese Oberland, to the west. On our last morning the high cloud cleared and we could see our destination, the high peaks of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, snow-covered and glittering in the morning sun – and so we descended to the lake shore, below the haze, travelled by boat and train, via Lucerne and Interlaken, to ascend by mountain railway to the high sun-lit Alpine slopes at Wengen, just below those peaks we had seen in the morning.
There is a hymn which begins by quoting Peter’s reaction to the Transfiguration:
‘Tis good, Lord, to be here!
Thy glory fills the night;
Thy face and garments, like the sun,
Shine with unborrowed light.
‘Tis good, Lord, to be here!
Thy beauty to behold,
Where Moses and Elijah stand,
Thy messengers of old.
‘Tis good, Lord, to be here!
Yet we may not remain;
But since thou bidst us leave the mountain
Come with us to the plain. J.Armitage Robinson (vv1,2,)