The glory and the pain

February 11, 2018

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Preached by Canon Sue Wallace using pray 2 Peter 1 I Kings 19 at Mattins on Sunday 11th February 2018, the Sunday before Lent.

The church’s calendar contains many interesting little quirks., and, as a liturgist, these interest me. One of these quirks is the fact that we celebrate a number of events in the life of Christ not once, but twice:

Good Friday and Holy Cross Day,

Maundy Thursday and Corpus Christi,

and the two times in the year when we visit the Transfiguration; the one which always occurs on the Sunday just before Lent, and the other, a Festal Eucharist in the glorious height of Summer.

Why might this be? Well, one is full of glory and the other has the deep shadows of pain (very strongly in the case of the feasts of the cross and of the Last Supper).  The glory and the pain, the two sides of the immensity and complexity of each event in the life of Christ.  On Good Friday we allow ourselves to cry at the foot of the cross, to imagine the agony that Christ went through for us and be sorry for our part in the litany of human wrongdoing that meant that he had to suffer so much. Whereas on the feast of Holy Cross we can glory in that cross which defeated death and evil. We can rejoice in the beauty of that cross, that x, that kiss of God’s immense love for us. On Maundy Thursday we can focus on the atmosphere of foreboding and betrayal, the disturbing sight of the Master bending down and washing his followers feet, and the raw shock of our Lord offering us a cup and saying that it was full of his own blood. On Corpus Christi we can delight in that gift of communion, and the Christ who offers himself to us in bread and wine, transfusing his life and his love into our own lives like a lifesaving blood transfusion.

Which brings us to today. On the Feast of the Transfiguration in August we can celebrate that glory of the divinity of Christ, revealed in our midst, and the promise of that glory for ourselves. when we shall see that glory with unveiled faces. Yet today, as we approach Lent, today we are much more aware that the glorious transfiguration of Christ upon the mountain, when he appeared before three disciples and unveiled his glory to them, today we are aware that this glimpse was a preparation for the long downhill journey to the cross and the depths of the cruelty that one human being can inflict upon another. A glimpse of glory to help them get through the pain of witnessing their master tortured.

Although we don’t actually have the gospel reading of the transfiguration at Matins, our readings are riffing like jazz musicians upon the theme. Thus it is that our reading from the Epistle of Peter contains hints of his account of that experience. Peter (or whoever is writing on his behalf) is keen to point out that the apostles account of the transfiguration was not fiction.  “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eye-witnesses of his majesty.  He received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.”

And the Old Testament reading for today is also no accident. It also tells of the glorious revelation of God upon a mountaintop. This time to Elijah who was literally feeling suicidal. God sends great wonders; a great and powerful wind ripping the rocks apart,

an earthquake rocking the foundations of the ground beneath his feet, a raging fire, and then after he has sent the wonders, he sends his presence, not in a loud voice, but in a gentle and still whisper. In this reading Elijah first experiences the pain, and then the gentle whisper of glory.

So what does this mean for us who are about to enter the season of Lent?  I think that maybe for us today there are two messages: the first is that, by glimpsing the glory of Christ upon the mountain of transfiguration we can remember that our Lenten self-denial, works of mercy or spiritual exercises are not for our own punishment or because we are bad people. They are preparing us for glory. For in Christ’s transfiguration he gives us a glimpse of what a glorified human being looks like, and the transformation that he longs to work in each and every one of us.  You and I were made for glory, and though that glory has been tainted and tarnished, it will shine forth one day, just as our newly revealed windows are shining once more.  Christ is showing us a glimpse of the things to come.

The second message for us is one of comfort. I believe that each and every human being is given a little glimpse of the mountaintop to help us with the painful climb, or a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel to help us with the long dark trudge through the gloom. Those glimpses might be through our dreams, they might be literally on a mountain top as we perceive the world stretched beneath us, or they may be through scripture,  other people or a particularly profound sense of the presence of God in worship.  Perhaps it is a long time since you experienced that light, perhaps you feel that you never have, but do be open to it when it comes, wherever it comes, for it might be at an unusual time and in an unusual way as it was with Elijah on that mountain top – and when you do catch a glimpse of glory, hold onto that memory. Maybe write it in a journal, or ponder it in your heart as the Blessed Virgin Mary treasured those glimpses of glory in the actions of the twelve year old child Jesus teaching in the temple. Mary kept those glimpses them safely, locked deep within her heart so that when she stood at the foot of the cross they gave her strength.

Thus it is, that as we leave the mountaintop and take the long and steady road to Jerusalem together, may we be encouraged in our Lenten journey by this moment of trans-figuration. Amen.