19th February 2023
Sunday next before Lent
2 Peter 1:16-end / Matthew 17:1-9
The Transfiguration which is today’s Gospel reading was such a big event in the life of Jesus that it has its own feast day on 6th August, so why, we may ask, are we reading it in February just before Lent begins? The Transfiguration occurs as Jesus starts to make his way to Jerusalem for his passion and death, which we’ll encounter once again in Holy Week in a little over six weeks’ time. So why do we hear it now? Well, it all depends on who the Transfiguration was for.
Jesus went up the mountain to pray – not at all unusual, and we know that he often took his disciples with him. However, this time he’s coming towards the end of his three-year ministry on earth and he’s facing certain persecution and death. Whilst praying, Moses and Elijah appear with him; two of the greatest characters of the Old Testament. They are representing the Law and the Prophets; everything Jesus had come to fulfil. He is utterly blessed by his Father’s affirmation as his voice is heard to say, “This is my Son, the beloved; with whom I am well pleased” (17:5). Therefore, Jesus can now move onto Jerusalem empowered that he really is fulfilling his Father’s will. The Transfiguration was for Jesus!
The three closest disciples of Jesus have followed him up to the mountain to pray as usual, but this time they were treated to the majestic transformation of him before their very eyes. This event occurs just after Jesus asks them who they think he is, and Peter replies that he is the Messiah. The disciples already knew they were following the long-awaited King who would save God’s people. The Transfiguration, however, was to give them strength for what was to come. That’s why Jesus told them not tell anyone about the event until after the Resurrection. They had expected their Messiah to be a warrior, but as we know, Jesus spread a message of love and peace. Their King wasn’t supposed to die on a cross! After the resurrection, they would remember the Transfiguration and understand; Jesus really was God’s Son who had come to redeem them. The Transfiguration was for the disciples!
We haven’t been up a physical mountain with Jesus, but we do have mountain-top moments with him. Yet, those glimpses of God can’t last. We must come back down the mountain, so to speak, and share those glimpses with others. At the beginning of Lent and at difficult times in our lives, we may be feeling like we’re looking into a wilderness, not celebrating on a mountain-top. The account of the Transfiguration reminds us that we too are following the Messiah; we even have the additional account from Peter’s second letter to reassure us that this event took place. We may not hear God’s voice audibly as Jesus and the disciples did, but he still speaks to us today and says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (17:5). The Transfiguration was for us!
So, this celestial event was for Jesus, his disciples and for us. Once again, God shows his boundless generosity to all. It seems fitting to me then, that this reading isn’t just limited to a feast day in August, but now, when we find ourselves on the threshold between Epiphany and Lent. Jesus doesn’t need the reassurance of the Transfiguration now, neither do the disciples; but we do!
We are all facing a great time of change; we are moving on, and you are moving into a vacancy. But I believe that God has given us the blessing of this reading today for a reason. I didn’t choose it; as I’ve said before the readings are laid down by the Church of England years beforehand. Today we have been reminded that the God we follow is faithful – he kept his word in raising his Son to new life and he will remain faithful to us. Jesus will lead you. He will not desert you. Jesus said, “I will not leave you orphaned…the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14:18,26).
As well as sending you the Holy Spirit, God will also send you an amazing new Vicar who will lead you on the next stage of your journey. And you deserve that because you are the most incredible church family, made even stronger by the Exodus following the fire. You are courageous and resilient. Go forward, therefore, with confidence; stay united and faithful to God in the months to come and all will be well. Thank you for all we have learnt together over these last 10 years. Thank you for the Transfiguration moments you have given me; I hope I have given you some too. I’m sorry when I haven’t been all you hoped I would be – please continue to pray for us as we will undoubtedly pray for you.
Let us pray…
O God, the well of life,
make us bright with wisdom,
that we may be enlightened
with the knowledge of your glory
in the face of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Every blessing, Heidi