06 Mar Sermon: Sunday before Lent (Year C)
I confess that I find myself somewhat lacking in words this week; I like many have been following the news with shock, despair, fear, anger. When faced with such an obvious act of senseless aggression as the Russian invasion of Ukraine, words fail. Or at least my own do, which makes me glad of other people’s, such as those which David Runcorn shared with us when he led a retreat here a few years ago, based around the stories of Jesus in the boat in the midst of a storm with his disciples: “We (meaning here all Christians, not just monks and nuns), we are called to attend faithfully to a different story”.
That faithful attention does not mean ignoring the waves, or pretending that the wind isn’t howling around us, or failing to recognise the very real danger that leaders such as Vladimir Putin pose to the world. The attention that we pay to God first and foremost as we gaze upon God’s endless beauty is not about burying our heads in the sand: I understand it rather as a defiant proclamation that says no: whatever violence, disorder and evil may be abroad in the world, or indeed within me – this is never always and only about those people over there – these things are not more powerful than the glory and the goodness and the love of God, made perfect in our human frailty.
And so: where is our attention being drawn to today? I’m sure I’m not the only person who in seeking to understand and make sense of the chaos unfolding in Ukraine has found myself not only lost for words, but overwhelmed by a mass of often very good and insightful words. There comes a point when our brains just can’t take any more in, when our words run out, when no words are adequate. It is at this point that the value of what God offers us in today’s readings comes into its own: a vision of glory. Not a description, or an essay, or a newspaper editorial but a vision, beginning with Exodus: “As he came down from the mountain…Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.”
Now, I like to think that if my face were shining, I would notice. But then I imagine how it would feel to be so thoroughly soaked and immersed in God’s presence that the light is everywhere, inside and out. I imagine it being like the glowing embers of a fire, full of intense heat and the potential to light up the night and dispel the darkness.
And then in our Gospel reading: “And while [Jesus] was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.”
There is all kinds of wonderful artwork and iconography depicting this moment in Jesus’ life; one particularly novel one I came across was very much modern art: imagine a series of fluorescent strip lights mounted vertically on a wall, the two longest in the centre, then reducing in size on either side to create an almond shape, looking bright enough in the picture I saw to risk giving you an instant migraine. The description of the piece spoke about the light completely filling the room, leaving no shadowy spots, no dark corners. I imagine it’s one of those things where you look at it, close your eyes and the image seems to be imprinted on your eyelids: whether you’re looking directly at it or not, its inescapable.
And from 2 Corinthians: “And 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. Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.”
Having encountered this light, this glory, this beauty, we discover that we too are called to gaze, we too are called to partake, we too are called to shine and glow and radiate the presence, the love, the sheer glory that is God and that comes from God and that is given us by God, in God’s strength and mercy and goodness. I was very, very tempted to choose ‘Shine, Jesus, Shine’ for our hymn this morning; I resisted, but I do love the way that Graham Kendrick expresses this idea: “Ever changing from glory to glory/ Mirrored here may our lives tell your story.”
Here perhaps then is the fullness of our response to the unspeakable horrors that all too often fill our screens and our lives: to so gaze upon God that our lives and our very selves are soaked in the fair beauty of the Lord, such that every act of our lives – our words, our actions, our silence, our prayer, all of it, cannot help but bring the indescribable glory of God more and more clearly into our families, our communities, our world. Amen.
The image mentioned above can be seen at: https://thevcs.org/transfiguration