Sunday, February 19, 2012
The Magic eye
Do you remember those magic eye posters that were popular for a millisecond a few years ago? At first glance they were a mass of swirling colours and patterns that seemed to show nothing in particular. Rumour has it that if you looked at them in a certain way, with you eyes half closed, standing on your head, four miles away you could see a 3D elephant - or what ever the picture was supposed to be.
What did you actually see? What were you supposed to see? Was there some epiphany moment when you did see? Did you see and then not see again?
Have you ever visited the Whispering gallery in St Paul’s Cathedral. High above the floor of the church, have you stained to hear the voice of your friend as they utter words amid the hubbub that only you can hear if you listen attentively in that audibly awesome place.
As you listen, did you clearly hear their voice? Did you struggle to make out what they were saying? Was there an epiphany moment when you ear was attuned amidst the other noise? Do you find their voice fading in and out?
These questions, in a way describe the nature of the relationship that people have had with God over the centuries. People sometimes saw and heard what they were supposed to see, others - only what they wanted. Even when the picture was brought into sharper focus by the coming of God’s Son and as a result people heard Him speak with a new clarity, people still failed to really see the picture that God was presenting the world or hear of the relationship He was calling them into.
This morning we hear Jesus take Peter, James and John up a high mountain by themselves. When Jesus does this elsewhere in the Gospels this is usually a time to recharge his spiritual batteries, to be apart with God and to pray. Even the Son of God roots all that he does in prayer and worship - reminding us of their vitality and necessity.
As they are on the mountain, Jesus is transfigured before the gathered friends. This is Jesus, their friend, Lord and teacher and yet He is transformed physically so that they get a glimpse of the glory of God. They get to see clearly, in sharp focus, the picture that God is revealing in and through Him.
If that weren’t enough the friends then overhear Jesus speaking with 2 figures that they know deep in their souls to be Moses (symbolizing the Old Testament Law of God) and Elijah (symbolizing the prophets of old.) To cap it all, a cloud descends confirming the presence of God Himself who then speaks clearly, as at His baptism, of Jesus’ Sonship.
The Transfiguration of Jesus is a high point in the accounts of the life of Jesus and for us too, as in and through it we are are reminded of Jesus’ true identity, and also ours; of the promise of Resurrection as we turn our faces toward His Passion; of the nature of God’s deep love for Him as His Son, and of us as His sons and daughters by faith.
Whilst this event is special in the life of Christ, it is by no means unique, for time and time again something of Jesus’ true identity is revealed as He heals; something of the promise of resurrection is offered as He raises people from death; something of the nature of God’s deep love for us is opened up as He redefines and renews what it means to know God, as He teaches.
Whilst the Transfiguration looks like a pulling back of the curtain to reveal something hidden before about Jesus, as we read the Gospels we see clearly Jesus’ true nature, not hidden but exposed again and again clearly in his daily life.
Where are our eyes drawn into sharp focus on the presence of God? On the mountaintop as we gather for worship or the daily reading of the scriptures? Or in the everyday business of our daily lives as we eat, sleep, work, rest, or spend time with others? Do we only hear God speak to us only as the scriptures are read and taught or as we gather in prayer? Or do we hear Him also in and through the lips and lives of others?
As Jesus is transfigured on the mountaintop, Peter unsure of what to say, offers to build some dwellings there, to hold onto, to contain the experience there in that place. How often to do we do the same and confine seeing and hearing God in Jesus Christ to this place and to this time?
The word Transfiguration is not used anywhere else in the Bible and comes from the Latin - trans meaning across and figura meaning figure. It refers to the substanstantive transformation of the whole person, complete change in every capacity, in our whole lives. It echoes the teaching of St Athansius - God became man so that man can become God, but not just in the mountaintop experiences but in the ordinariness of everyday life.
As we remember Jesus Transfigured this day, we remember that that experience was not for His benefit but ours, for through it, God’s glory was clearly glimpsed. That same glory was revealed clearly throughout His daily life and ministry, and through it, the lives of countless people were transformed by the glory of God.
This week, with talk of the retreat of Christian faith from public life and the creeping in of aggressive secularism, with families and communities in places like Thornbury and Homs or Damascus in Syria struggling to make sense of life in the face of death and tragedy, with families and individuals struggling to find meaningful work & thus also income, food, self confidence and hope within our own parish, with the plight of millions crying for food or justice in Zimbabwe or The Horn of Africa now largely forgotten because the media circus has moved on - we deny Jesus’ Transfiguration and what it means for us every time we fail to pray for them, every time we fail to act, every time we fail to give some of our time or money, every time we fail to buy fairtrade produce, every time we see these people and issues as someone else’s problem...
As we stand on the cusp of Lent, let us also pray for Transfiguration of our lives, but not for our benefit, but for those whom we encounter in our daily lives. That through God at work in us, our eyes may be drawn into sharp focus onto Him and that our ears would be clearly attuned to hear His voice calling us all into deep relationships of love with Him. Amen.