Sunday next before Lent
15th February 2015
Revealing the glory of God
Our three readings today each tell us something of the spiritual experience of the ‘otherness’ of God.
Our first reading is one of the rare occurrences in the Hebrew Bible of an event that is not within human time, human space or everyday human experience. In it we hear of Elijah being taken into a state of being that was beyond time and space – a state of being that is here called heaven; he has moved from the world of the seen to the unseen. It is noticeable that, while the later idea of the resurrection connects death with passing into heaven, here Elijah passes into this spiritual state without the mention of death (even if it may be an unspoken understanding that that is what the story is about). The important element of the story is that Elijah’s wisdom and understanding has taken him beyond just understanding things as they appear on the surface to a more complete understanding that acknowledges that there are things to understand that are beyond our time and place – things that are truly eternal truths.
In the Christian scriptures and tradition the idea of heaven becomes a far more important element of understanding that it was in the Hebrew scriptures, and we see an example of this in Paul’s writing to the early Church in Corinth. In this letter Paul speaks of the ways in which it is only with an openness to deep understanding – and openness to faith – that full knowledge comes. Paul makes clear that the absolute truth that exists – in what we call God – is revealed to us in the human form of Jesus. He talks of the ‘light of the gospel’ which reveals the ‘glory of Christ…the image of God’. Whilst the Hebrew scriptures may have been content to explore how God acts in our time and place – with only rare hints at another approach – here we have an indication that the New Testament – the Christian message – brings a different dimension into play. Here we see that we are not just to content ourselves with the physical world in which we live, but we are to seek the deeper truth of a God who, as John says in his gospel ‘is love’ – we move beyond the tangible and material world to a world that is more mysterious, more fulfilling, and deeper in its meaning.
This brings us to the experience of the transfiguration that is the central event in our gospel reading today – an event where Jesus, in the presence of some close disciples, bridges that gap between heaven and earth – where the gap between our world of time and space dissolves to reveal a different experience – an experience that is touches the very nature of what God is – a God of love. Such moments – often sneaking up on us unawares and often lasting a fraction of a second have the potential for us too to see the gulf between heaven and earth dissolve. These experiences may be different for each of us – perhaps a breath-taking view whilst out walking, maybe the wonder of seeing the echo of creation in the patterns of physics, in the beauty of music, or feeling God’s presence in a place (like this) where people have prayed for centuries. Each of these (and so many more everyday things) have the potential to let us reach beyond our immediate experience to experience something of God.
This bridging of the gap is fundamental to what it means to be a Christian – it is at the heart of our daily prayer that heaven and earth may be one, and it should be at the heart of our life and work as a Church. For as Christians we are called to understand something of what it is for God to be love itself and truth beyond truth. It is our calling to let this seed, however small, dwell in our hearts – and as Paul says we are then to let it shine in our hearts, that it may shine in the darkness. This call – to shine as lights in the world is one that is made our own in baptism.
Over the coming weeks, as we approach Easter, we are provided with an opportunity to reflect on our faith – to look at the small fragments of heaven that we may have seen – and to look at how we find them revealed in Christ in the blazing hope of Easter. So as we travel through this coming Lent let us seek to dwell on those moments and those places where heaven and earth seem to melt away – and let us strive to kindle and grow that light which reveals God’s love in each of us. Together let us grow in prayer so that the light of God’s love might not be veiled from sight, as it was for some to whom Paul wrote, but might ‘shine out of the darkness’ to reveal the face of Christ – the glory of God.