Epiphany 5 - 6 February 2005

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In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Feast of the Transfiguration. Just before the service we were trying to work out where else – it’s quite hard to find in prayer books and things. It certainly is billed as a feast to come at the end of Epiphany, but there’s another date for it later in the year as well. And yet, somehow, it does seem to be an important feast to hold at the end of the season of Epiphany, before we go into Lent. And again, it’s a reminder of how important it is for us to contextualize the readings that we hear, even we’re reading at home alone. It’s helpful just to be aware of what is the context that I’m hearing these words in. Where am I in my life? Where am I in the life of the whole? My community? The cosmos? And where am I in a sense of journeying? Am I moving from or toward.

It’s a Feast in which we had a discussion the other day with Paul, who’s looking after the children’s activity this morning, a very simple question: what does this mean? What is it all about? And it’s good not to necessarily give answers to that but rather to encourage one another, both to guess at it or to share the bit that you hold, the little bit that you either understand or don’t understand. There’s another version of the Transfiguration in Mark’s gospel and there’s some fantastically subtle differences. And often that’s a way to add a little bit, a bit more insight without having to read what someone else has said. If we hear a story from two perspectives, it’s often much clearer than if we hear it from one.

It’s pretty clear that the subtle difference indicate that Matthew wanted to make sure that Moses gets a Guernsey in this. There’s certainly a deliberate attempt to show that Jesus and Moses have something in common. And just as you start to see that you then wonder, well, who is the story about and who is it for? And one of the comparisons that I’d like to draw is – hopefully many of you are familiar with the TV show – I’ve managed to watch it as a kid and I think it’s still running – called “This is Your Life”. Are you sort of familiar with that? Where they get some famous person and unfold their story and they tell their story and they bring people in from the past. If you look at the way the readings go today and you picture the set of “This is Your Life”, what we get in the Old Testament reading is the narrator telling the story of Moses, of someone who was transformed, who shone after they went up to a mountain and they shone with the glory of God. Then you get the voice from the past, either the person who was either there with the guy on the stage – and that’s the reading from Peter. Peter says, “Yep, we were there. I can remember it, I remember it well. It was years ago. We went up to the mountain and our friend here, yep, it was really terrific – blah, blah, blah.” Then the voice comes out and the voice comes out and says, “Oh Peter, it’s good to see you after all these years!” And then he tells his version of the story, which is in the Gospel. “Yep, I remember, what we did was…” It very much reads like that. And I thought quite often is that not what we do with scripture. We actually watch it as if it’s a “this is your life” Jesus.

I would guess if you asked most Christians what the Gospels are about they’d say, “the life of Jesus”. This is your life, Jesus. –Thank you, Mark. This is your life, Jesus. –Thank you, Luke. We’ve become used to watching other people’s lives and getting of on it. It’s so easy to do. We can do it in books, we can do it in films. You can even do it in reality TV, so they’re even more like us than the actors. And programs like “This is Your Life” enable us to watch and if we read the Gospels that way then this becomes the Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus, another episode in “This is Your Life”.

A few weeks ago remember we watched Christmas, we watched the “This is Your Life” story of Jesus being born. Now we’re watching the “This is Your Life” story of Jesus climbing the mountain and shining and looking forward to Easter – the “This is Your Life” story of him dying on the cross and then rising again. Most or many biographies and autobiographies have I think two agendas in them: the story of the actual person, and so as a reader you can read their story and in fact watch it from outside. But the other perspective surely must be the telling of the story so that someone can hear it, have meaning and worth to them. Some people probably do write them and they couldn’t care less if anything is imparted. It’s more, “I just want to tell my story”. I think there’s a two-fold dynamic that exists within every telling of every story. Deep down most of us do want to be heard, not watched, but rather heard in a deeper way.

When Jesus goes up to the mountain, he takes Peter and James with them. Their experience is worth looking at. Because you could say, well they’re just watching as well. They get something though, they actually want to stay with it. The question is then what happened when they came down? What happened when they came down? I think there’s a clue there as to what the story is about. It’s pretty clear that Jesus wasn’t doing it so that he could look stunningly different, or be seen or be acknowledged differently. As far as he’s concerned it’s, “Let’s not mention this”. Until later on, until the Son of Man is lifted up. So it’s obviously not about witnessing the glory of Jesus. It’s not an episode in “This is Your Life” Jesus. The interesting thing is that as Peter and James come down the mountain, so their lives are transformed by it.

If we begin to see the Gospel not as the story of Jesus, but rather as our story, then this becomes an event in our lives. An event that we can either participate in or an event that we can edge around. What would it look like if we became transfigured? It would certainly look different to us gathering together Sunday by Sunday to rejoice in the fact that Jesus was transfigured. It would look miles different.

It’s worth remembering that the life and times of Jesus were not for purpose of forming a cult. He was not one of our current age politicians who was just after the votes. It’s not what it was about at all. Otherwise, this story would have a different ending. He would come down the mountain and say, “Go on, tell everybody, tell them all, tell them all what you seen.” I don’t think Jesus ever set out to see following in his wake a Christian church. I think one of the most stunning disappointments would be to think that the Gospels are the cause of the current reality that is the church. I think that’s a stunning disappointment. Jesus never set out to create an audience to watch “This is Your Life, Jesus”. Rather he is the Life, revealed to us, that we too might be the Life.

This is a story that is full of opportunity. It’s a story for us and about us. For the forty days of Lent, it could be worth contemplating what would we look like if we were the central character of this story, if we shone with the glory of God. And, if we came down from whatever mountain we’re up and shared what it is that we’d found and seen.

The Lord be with you.