Epiphany 8. Sermon preached by the Vice Provost, Marion Chatterley – 28th February 2022

Exodus 34: 29-35; 2 Corinthians 3: 12-4.2; Luke 9: 28-36

 

This already feels like it’s been a long year. Unprecendented times have been surpassed by even more unprecedented times and it’s still only February.
A later Easter has given us a few weeks post-Christmas when life, at least in church, has felt relatively settled and there’s been a bit of time to breathe and plan ahead. There’s a kind of balance within these weeks of Epiphany that allows us to hold onto our reflections on the miracle of the Incarnation for a little longer before our gaze turns towards the final chapters of the story.

So this morning we find ourselves transported up a mountain, with Jesus and three of his disciples, where we witness the Transfiguration – that moment when the fully human Jesus bridges the gap between heaven and earth and we’re reminded that he is also fully God.

Transfiguration is defined in a dictionary as a ‘complete change of form or appearance’; a change of form or appearance but, importantly, not of substance.

The story of the Transfiguration is the perfect illustration of the place we find ourselves in at this moment in the liturgical year. We may have moved on from the child in the manger, the infant Jesus with his parents who are trying to make sense of what has happened. We perhaps feel that we’ve not had quite long enough to engage with the stories about the adult Jesus, the word made flesh who has come to dwell among us. And yet, our liturgical year moves on, just as the lives of Mary and Joseph and their baby son moved on. The moving on forces us to hold in tension the fully human child with the emerging revelation of the divinity of the man.

And today, this reading, this moment in the story, allows us to glimpse that liminal place that the three disciples found themselves inhabiting. This was the man who they were living with and learning from and giving their loyalty and commitment to. They knew him as a fully functioning human friend and teacher and mentor. They knew that he was special, they knew that he was unlike any prophet they had encountered, and now, in this moment they were confronted with the absolute truth of his being.
This is my Son. The story takes us to the heart of our faith – draws us into a picture that makes a direct connection between heaven and earth, a picture that is simultaneously shocking and exhilarating.

So let’s take a moment to imagine ourselves to be there, to be first hand observers of this extraordinary scene. Let’s think about the high place taking us into the clouds, towards the heavens above. And let’s imagine those three disciples, perhaps a bit out of breath after the climb, perhaps wondering what was about to happen now. And then their senses were assaulted.

If we now imagine ourselves into the picture, imagine that we had scrambled our way up the mountain, imagine our senses being overwhelmed – can we then take just a moment to pause, to catch our breath and to allow ourselves to respond. Not to tell or to share or to question but to respond from somewhere within ourselves. To allow our embodied selves to respond to the embodied God who is there on that mountain, showing himself to his disciples, and showing himself to us.

Encountering and engaging with the embodied God who reaches out to us is, hopefully, life changing for us – but what God asks of us doesn’t stop there. We may be transformed and transfixed but we’re also called, as Christians, to respond. The disciples had their breath taken away, and then they started to look around to find something to do, some way to indicate the enormity of what they were seeing, to make a response, however inadequate.

However we find ourselves encountering God – whether that encounter is high up a mountain or in the embodied lives we journey alongside, whether we find that our senses are assaulted or we glimpse a fleeting presence out of the corner of our eye, we are called to respond. As twenty first century disciples, our response must be contextual, must be a response to the world within which we live and work and have our being.

And we find ourselves in a world that challenges every fibre of our being. This is not what any one of us would wish for our world – we weep with and for the people of Ukraine, and we hold them in prayer.  As a church, we’re in that place of balance between the end of Epiphany and the beginning of Lent. We hold the tension of the story of our faith in the frame of the rich imagery of the Transfiguration. As a Cathedral, we inhabit a building that draws our eyes towards that place that is beyond our comprehension whilst at the same time offering a moment of sanctuary and peace, an opportunity to pause, to light a candle, to pray. And that is what numerous people have done over recent days. Our prayer station for Ukraine has burned bright and strong, reflecting the prayers of the people who have found their way into this building.

Faced with the unimaginable, those who believe and those who want to believe find themselves doing the one thing that seems to make sense, we pray. We pray to and with the transcendent God whom we might picture at the top of the high mountains, shrouded by cloud, but powerfully present. We turn our eyes towards the heavens, reminding ourselves that the unfurling situation in Europe is not all that is – that our God is bigger and brighter and stronger – and that our hope is grounded in and with the Divine.

And at the same time we turn our eyes towards our sisters and brothers – here, in Ukraine and in the most affected parts of our world. We turn our eyes towards the unspeakable events; we try to find ways to continue to look, because however painful it is for us to look from this distance, we can only imagine the pain of looking from within the conflict zones.   We turn our eyes and we ask God for the strength and the courage to continue to face the outworking of evil that confronts us. And as we do so, we remind ourselves that the Incarnate Christ is there in the midst of that suffering and pain. That the incarnation is about the fully human God getting alongside – alongside those who flee to a place of safety; alongside those who pick up arms to fight for their land; alongside those learning how to make Molotov cocktails; alongside those who can only watch and weep.

With the Incarnate Christ; with our transcendent God, with the people of Ukraine and those who pray across our world, we do the thing we can do. We pray.

Let us pray- with people across Scotland, using words written by the Scottish Churches Leaders’ Forum:

Living God,
Creator and giver of life to all people:
We ask that you would hear our prayer for peace amongst the nations
And for ending of conflict in Ukraine.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Living God,
Who shall judge between the nations:
We ask that that you would lead the nations in the paths of peace
And that the dividing wall of hostility would be broken down.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Living God,
Who has inspired faith across the ages:
Grant peace in the midst of war
And bring harmony to the commonwealth of nations.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Living God,
Who gave his only Son that we might have life:
We ask that you would pour out your Holy Spirit
And inspire in us hope that peace will be renewed.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

 

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