On the Sunday before Lent begins, the readings usually remind us of the Transfiguration. This happened when Jesus took Peter, James and John up a high mountain by themselves. His face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light. The disciples saw Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah, two heroes from the Old Testament who were each famous for mountain top experiences.
We read a little earlier how God summoned Moses up onto the mountain to meet him. Again and again we read about the holiness of God, and the care that must be taken so that the people are not exposed to God’s holiness and killed. The precautions that God spells out might remind us of workers entering the damaged reactor at Chernobyl. He is truly immortal, invisible, hidden in inaccessible light. Moses waits for six days, looking at the cloud of glory that has descended on the mountain, before God calls to him again and he goes up, to spend 40 days with God.
Then we skip forward perhaps 1500 years to an old man – Peter, who is pleading with us to live a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. We have received all that we need to do this because of God’s goodness, but we are nevertheless to make every effort to live well. This is not theory, Peter says. He himself has seen the glory of God, when he accompanied Jesus onto the mountain, and heard the voice from on high saying “This is my beloved Son, with him I am pleased.”
In each case, the holiness and mystery of God is made clear. So how can we ever dream that might encounter him and grow in him? On each occasion a man meets God, on behalf of others. Moses has brought the elders of Israel as high up the mountain as they can dare to come. Now he must go on alone. During the 40 days he will receive the two tablets of the law engraved on stone, and ultimately his face will start to shine as he is changed from glory into glory. Because Moses can meet God, ultimately all the people of Israel can safely encounter God, albeit though an elaborate system of ritual and sacrifice, that is laid out for us in Exodus and Leviticus.
And Jesus is revealed to be the new Moses. He is the Father’s pure radiance, the divine presence here on earth. The context is again one of hardship and difficulty. Jesus has just been speaking of the opposition he has been encountering from the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and has just astounded his disciples by saying that he will be betrayed into the hands of his enemies, killed and that he will rise again on the third day. Here on the mountain top he is speaking to Moses and Elijah, both of whom suffered persecution. Luke, in his version, mentions that Jesus is talking about his own exodus, his departure from this life.
And the three disciples are part of it. They do not understand it all. They are far from perfect. But Peter’s report is that his life was changed as he found himself in the presence of the divine. He has a reason to get up each morning. He has a strong power pushing him to want to have the same character as Jesus.
And we learn powerful lessons as we seek to be a growing community of faith that is open for all.
We need to be a welcoming people. Jesus could have gone up on the mountain alone. But he chose to share the experience with his disciples, who in turn have shared it with us. It is remarkably hard to be a Christian on your own; you are not designed for it. Jesus gathered his disciples into a group, and it seems plain to me from scripture that he is still doing this. I talked to someone recently about their bad foot. But how had they managed to walk all the way around Virginia Water? “Oh that was easy. We were in a group and as we chatted the walk just happened.” For whatever reason, it is not automatic for everyone just to easily follow Jesus; we need to be a welcoming, encouraging, facilitating, going the second mile, cake making, group attending people, who help others to join us as we go up the mountain together.
We need to be people who are followers of Jesus. Peter, James and John might have said “Thanks for the invitation, but it is not convenient right now.” Or perhaps “but I am not worthy to join you on the mountain; let’s wait till I am in the right frame of mind”. But Jesus called them, and they went. Every one of us who has been baptised is by definition a follower of Jesus. We may feel ourselves to be fallible people who are always getting things wrong; that is, however, the necessary qualification to be a follower of Jesus. This is where joining one of the two courses on offer this Lent may be just the best thing that you can do. They each have a different approach but they will enable you to take real steps forward in getting to know Jesus. They will help those who wish to be baptised or confirmed, and those who want to revisit their baptismal promises and see how to live them out in everyday life. As part of our Easter worship we are planning a Reaffirmation of Baptismal Vows.
We need to be people who are learning to pray. It is tempting to think that once we have sorted various things out in our lives and got ourselves on an even keel, once the problems are dealt with and we are feeling better, then we will be clear to worship and pray to God as he is worth it. The truth is, however, that Jesus took his disciples up onto the mountain while in the midst of considerable turmoil, and with more waiting for him afterwards. Moses would come down from his 40 days to face the crisis of the golden calf. We are learning to glory in God’s glory, but also in the tribulations that we encounter day by day. We learn to pray on our own and in groups and in the whole congregation here. We praise God in our triumphs and in our disasters, and we learn to pray though them all.
We are a people who communicate God’s love to all around us. Peter saw in Jesus a direct line back to the Old Testament prophets who made God’s love known, and he himself continued that line in his preaching and his writing. If he had lived today, would Peter have Facebooked, tweeted, blogged, YouTubed and also written articles for The Magazine? I suspect that he would have.
Today we are launching our Mission Action Plan. It is the start of a process that will continue, of choosing actions that bring us closer to God, and make it easier for others to join us in following Jesus. I trust that you will be blessed as you join us in going up the mountain with Jesus this Lent.