14th February 2021
Parish Church of St James, Louth
2 Kings 2.1-12; 2 Corinthians 4.3-6; Mark 9.2-9
+May I speak in the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sometimes we are granted a moment in which we see someone as never before. Never mind how humble or ordinary a person. For me, I feel I see a great deal of such individual transfigurations. Because it’s not unusual for that moment of graced seeing to be especially present at a funeral, when all that was good and true and lovely in someone’s life, in the best eulogies without false varnishing but in all its human reality, is looked at for perhaps the first time as something with at least
a ‘for now’ completeness. We see how God’s purpose in them on earth was lived out. Or it might be, this being Valentine’s Day, those moments when suddenly our lifetime companions or our first time sweethearts give us that surge of adoration and admiration. Or simply when someone unexpectedly does, or says, something by which they shine out to us. Or when a photograph captures something compositely perfect to us.
We know that there was never a moment when Jesus was not also Christ, nothing of him that is not divine and also human, no way of separating the two. And yet for his friends, the disciples, the revelation of his glory still took place, as beauty and truth do for us, in time, in glimmers and moments, instants to hang onto and colour the whole.
Here, in the story of Elisha and Elijah which prefigures it, and in the beauty of the Transfiguration gospel, we see God’s glory ‘flame out, like shining from shook foil’ to use the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins on how the world is ‘charged’, fizzing with greatness that finds its moments of release to our vision and our poetry of being.
This is our last Gospel before we enter Lent, on Ash Wednesday this week. We’re going to do something that may seem perverse. We’re going to veil that glory for a little while, dull that shining, pay some close attention to shortcomings, what we are not, as well as what we shall be. It’s a season of repentance, this time of really acknowledging the wrong and the dark that ‘cling so closely’—not just in our world but in ourselves. But it should tell us a lot about God’s good purpose that we are sent out towards this time with these two gospels of transport and transfiguration—the good prophet Elijah carried up by chariots of fire, on the wings of angels as this passage has often been interpreted, and Jesus’ beauty and glory which leaves the disciples gasping and longing for more. ‘I will not leave you’ says Elisha. Let us stay here, it is good for us to be here. Says Peter. But in each case, although the transfigured one is the closest friend and mentor, we have to inherit and live out what we see, not just stay gazing at it in static admiration.
Elisha is granted Elijah’s spirit, double-share. With the disciples, we are granted even more: Christ’s spirit, and so the unstoppable, constant presence of God with us, alongside us, knowing all it is to be one of us. The fullness of life. Death that is can be not death anymore but new birth.
In our reading from the Epistle to the people in Corinth we heard that the God who made us, made us to see God. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
God made us all to be transfigured. And to be transfigured is to show forth Christ’s being, God’s being, love made complete. At Christmas we said ‘the light has shone in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’, and we heard that again last week. Now, as we move into Lent, we are challenged to truly be the ones in whom that light shines, to make ourselves so transparent to that light that we really are God’s glory, a human being fully alive. And Lent isn’t a come down from this, it’s the way to it—just as Christ’s only way to resurrection was the giving of his life and his will into God’s hands, through his temptation, his suffering, his Cross. That he calls us to share in this giving, this offering, is the same as his call to share in his glory—to really know what it is to love and live and be filled with the light of God.
So as we approach his altar, let our prayer be that, through Christ given to us, we may see God as he is, and so be changed ever more and more into that luminous image.