Saturday, 6 February 2016

I closed my eyes, pulled back the curtain...

Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday

2 Corinthians 3:18And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

Luke 9:28 - 9 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 

The first line of a popular song from the Musical Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dream Coat, goes like this:
“I closed my eyes/pulled back the curtain/to see for certain/what I thought I knew…”
Today’s Gospel shows us the peeling back of a curtain between earth and heaven as Jesus is revealed in all his glory on the Mount of Transfiguration.
It’s a glimpse of glory, which is very tantalizing.

We’ll firstly take a look at the word GLORY, then have a digression on the difficulty of imagining Eternal Life and thirdly, we’ll ask where in our lives do we experience glory?

1. Glory is a fascinating topic in Scripture – I wonder what images the word conjures up for you?
Perhaps something akin to a bright light, something white and blinding, maybe images of a coronation service…certainly not an every day occurrence.
The Westminster Catechism talks of glory: to the question: ‘What is the chief end of man?’ the answer goes: ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.’

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, a Sunday all about GLORY.
It’s a Sunday when we think of Jesus, an otherwise ordinary looking man, who had no particular physical attractiveness, and who experienced all the common emotions and troubles known to humankind, being suddenly revealed to be who he truly was, behind the curtain (so to speak).

The word ‘glory’ in Greek is doxa, from where we get our word ‘doxology’.
A doxology is what we say after a psalm: ‘Glory to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, Amen’.
Saying a doxology is a little repetitive reminder that despite all appearances to the contrary, the glory of God is his very nature, and that nature is something we can fully rely on to be real.

‘Glory’ in the Old Testament has a special word: Shekinah.
The Shekinah of God was His manifest presence in a local place, like the Temple.
It was said that when Moses came down from his mountain top experience, after receiving the 10 commandments, that his face shone with glory, the glory of having been in the presence of God.
The glory shining in his face was so bright he had to put a veil over it when he talked with ordinary people; otherwise they could not bear to look at it.

On Transfiguration Sunday we see Jesus revealed for a moment in all his true glory.
It’s a moment to savour, because soon we will enter Lent and it will be a while before the resurrection glory of Easter Day dawns (though let’s not forget that every Sunday is a resurrection morning really).

We can picture the mountain top scene perhaps:
Jesus has taken his closest three friends up the mountain to pray.
Can you imagine going up a mountain with Jesus to share a time of prayer?
It would be pretty special.
While he was praying the appearance of his face changed and suddenly his clothes became dazzling white.

Now strange things can happen at the top of mountains.
There’s a lot of cloud up there, the weather might be unpredictable, the atmosphere might be a bit rarified; you might be worn out from the climb…
Can you really believe your eyes as Jesus’ appearance begins to change – is that the sun bursting through – or just Jesus getting whiter and whiter till you can hardly look,
As the curtain is peeled back for a moment….
…..the curtain that separates this age from the age to come?

2. A little digression on the nature of the afterlife…

We have problems in our language describing the afterlife/heaven/eternal life etc.
We think we live here now, then we’ll progress to something that comes after.
We struggle when we use time-related words.
But another way to think of it, is that Life Eternal is present alongside ours and that’s possibly much more helpful.

There’s a scene from the Harry Potter movies where Harry sees his godfather die in a battle against the forces of evil.
In the film the sequence is slowed; in slow motion you see the fatal blow fall on the godfather, Sirius; you see him stop for a moment, fall backwards slowly, and a curtain appears – a very flimsy curtain - and he falls through it and into the other side, wherever that is…

Sirius falls through the curtain...
Granted it's separate from 
Harry, in that Harry is distraught and cannot see his godfather anymore; but in fact he is apparently only on the other side of the curtain…
That’s a good visual image of Life Eternal being just out of sight, NEXT to ours…

Or imagine you’re at a theatre, and the scenery is stacked up one screen behind the other, each screen ready to be brought out at the right time.
As the scene changes, the scenery that you can see now, is lifted for a moment to reveal something much more spectacular behind it.

On the Mount of Transfiguration, the reality behind the ordinary mountain walk is suddenly revealed, and the disciples ‘see’ the Old Testament prophets alongside the exalted Son of God, talking with him about his forthcoming death.

They suddenly see reality. And NOTE: when this happened they were praying.

3. So finally, when have you suddenly glimpsed spiritual reality right in your midst?
Sometimes it’s at our most testing moments that we see the reality behind the curtain…
Moments when I have glimpsed the glory have often been at funerals, or with the bereaved who are reaching out to God; as well as the moment when couples make their wedding vows, or a baby is christened, or I’m singing an uplifting hymn, or sitting in silence in the presence of a flickering candle….you will have your own moments.
Be encouraged that probably the times when we’re most likely to glimpse the glory poking through the curtain are the hard times – so we mustn’t lose heart.
Suffering leads to glory if we let it.
Paul says that we reflect the glory as we are being made into God’s likeness,
That’s a huge privilege and also a challenge.
That challenge is that the transformation he speaks of needs our co-operation.
Lent is a perfect time to reassess this; to reassess our spiritual lives, our walk with Christ.
The Lent Course a perfect format in which to be open to each other in power of the Spirit.
But if you can’t come to the Lent Course, find a way to make room for Christ, especially in your prayer life this Lent.
Is there a book, a task, a daily discipline that you can practice to deepen your relationship with Christ?

Can I put in a plug for not just the usual ‘I’m giving up chocolate’?
There’s nothing wrong with a type of fast, but the reason for doing it is to draw nearer to God.
In Lent we pray for the grace to catch the glimpses of glory.

"I closed my eyes/pulled back the curtain/to see for certain/what I thought I knew..."


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