Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Transfiguration and the beginning of Lent

May my words be in the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is the Sunday before Lent, and also the Sunday on which we consider the Transfiguration of our Lord. That we consider this event on the cusp of the great penitential season of the Church is no accident; in the gospels it is after this event takes place that our Saviour begins his journey to Jerusalem – a journey that would culminate with his Passion and death on the Cross – a death which he willingly embraced for our sakes. During the course of Lent we make our own spiritual journey to the foot of the Cross, accompanying our Lord in his sufferings. And so before we begin our journey we ponder the event that came before his.

So what took place on the mountain heights that day? Well, as I begin, it is perhaps important to point out that there is a special theological name for what happened. It was a theophany – a visible manifestation of God to man. There are accounts of other theophanies in Sacred Scripture: Moses and the burning bush, for example; and Elijah in the desert. St Paul's Damascus Road experience might also be thought of as one, when he heard not only the voice of our Lord but also saw a light from heaven.

In the gospels, there is the Baptism of our Lord, when the Son stands in the Jordan, the voice of the Father is heard from heaven, and the Holy Spirit manifests as a dove hovering above. The cloud is also considered a symbol of the Holy Spirit and it is out of a cloud during the Transfiguration that the Father speaks, echoing the words spoken at that earlier Theophany, when he says that this is his Beloved Son and we must listen to him.

But there is difference on this occasion. At his baptism Jesus, despite the voice from heaven, appears to all present to be nothing more than a man. But now, in the company of the inner circle of his Apostles, he shines whitely, a dazzling whiteness, so white that no one on earth could bleach his clothes as brightly as this. What is happening? Well consider that when we speak of God we often speak of him as Light – uncreated light – and indeed, the Nicene Creed speaks of Jesus as being Light from Light, and the Gospels tell us that he was the Light of the world. In the Transfiguration, then, he displays a fraction of his heavenly glory and the uncreated energies that are the uncreated light of God shine forth and are seen.

But not publicly; only to a chosen few. And even they he warns not to speak of it until after his Resurrection. The time has not yet come for him to reveal himself to the world … but he wants his disciples to be able to look back on this moment and remember … remember and only then understand after his death and resurrection what they had witnessed … that they had seen him as he truly is … God incarnate.

And this remembering, this understanding, is important for us as we stand on the threshold of that Great season of the Church that is Lent. For it serves to shake us out of our often all too comfortable complacency about the mysteries of our faith and bring us directly face to face with the fact of who it is that is about to begin that journey to Jerusalem, who it is that will willingly suffer and die for our sins – God himself in the person our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

This reminder should spur us on to engage fully with the traditional disciplines of this great season – prayer, fasting, and alms giving – disciplines that are more than things that are simply suggested to us by the Church, but rather practices that were both modelled for us by Christ and commanded by him to engage in. We should not, therefore, see them as something that it matters little if we do or do not do, or do half-heartedly, sporadically, or grudgingly. They are a vital part of the way in which we train ourselves to grow as Christians and grow in holiness … something we dare not neglect, for God himself has told that we must be holy as he is holy …

And as I finish, I think back to words of St Paul we heard in our Epistle this day, in which he told us that the Gospel is veiled to those who are perishing, those whom the god of this world has blinded to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. It is difficult not to think that we blind ourselves if we do not do everything that we can to grow in holiness. And it is even more difficult not to think that we risk numbering ourselves among those who are perishing if we do not do the things that Christ himself did and asked that those who followed him should do.

This Lent, I pray that all here will discipline themselves as our Lord commanded by prayer, fasting, and alms-giving and take up their cross and join with him on his journey to Jerusalem … a journey that will be enlightened by the Light of Christ and the glory that is his gospel … and that in doing so you will draw ever nearer to the eternal and Uncreated Light that created you … so that at the end of days you will join with the Light that is God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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