Sermon for the Sunday before Lent Year C 2022 St John’s Upper Norwood 2022
Many of us will have been astounded at the sight of the painting of the Crucifixion, back once more in St John’s after being restored, now resplendent and striking. It is difficult to believe that it is the same picture that before restoration was dark, grimy, with the figure of the crucified Christ barely visible. It might be good to hang our thoughts on today’s scripture readings on that theme of restoration, because that is what all three readings are about- the restoration of our human dignity. As we prepare to begin our Lenten journey we are asked to reflect on how vividly and clearly each of us is being true to our calling to reflect the likeness of Christ in our daily living, and to think how we might set about finding ways this Lent to make Christ’s love more visible to those about us.
This Sunday’s scriptures speak of radical restoration; the restoration of the divine likeness and beauty in us. This divine likeness was bestowed on humanity at the Creation. We are made in the image and likeness of God.. But now this likeness is disfigured through our own self-serving and greed. Luke tells us that Jesus is about to set out for Jerusalem, to fulfil his destiny; committed to the saving work of redeeming the world.
In preparation for this last journey an inner group of disciples are called to climb Mount Tabor to pray with their Master, where they are given a momentary glimpse of his true glory and identity. The story is packed with clues about the deeper meaning of what they are experiencing. Jesus’ true identity is being revealed, but not only with blazing glory. His divinity is underlined by the voice of God the Father, proclaiming Jesus as his “ beloved Son, — the Chosen One,” just as he did before at Jesus’ baptism. But, even more significantly, God goes on to say, “Listen to Him.” Anyone versed in the Jewish scriptures would immediately make the connection with the prophetic words of Moses before his own death. “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like myself, from among you, from your brethren. – Listen to him.” (Deut. 18:15) Jesus is that prophet Israel had been longing for, and the vision of Moses, the giver of the Law, and Elijah, the greatest of the prophets, sharing in this moment of glory makes it clear to the disciples, and us, that this is the climax of Israel’s long, and often messy, faith journey. Jesus is the way forward for hope and change, and redemption.
But God’s words form the cloud that veils his splendour hold further clues to Jesus identity. When God calls Jesus ‘the Beloved, the Chosen Son” we are taken back to the moment when God called Abraham and said to him. ”Take your son, your only son, who you love, and offer him as a burnt sacrifice.” This subtle reference tells us that Jesus, the Beloved Son, is to face rejection and martyrdom. Sacrificial self-offering for others is part and parcel of his saving calling, (and by implication part of our calling as Christ’s followers as well) Luke tells us that the disciples are reduced to silence. Once again any talk of what Jesus calling demands of him, and them, reduces the disciples to silence and denial. They would rather not to look at the true state of events.
Choosing not to look at reality, whether it is in our own lives, or in the world about us, is never a good idea. AA remind us that “De-Nile is not just a river in Egypt!!, and Shakespeare speak of those who “tread the primrose path to the everlasting bonfire.”!!! Moses and Elijah arrive on the scene to bring us a dose of reality. They are quite clear about what is about to happen. “They speak of Jesus’ departure which he is to undergo in Jerusalem” Luke tells us. The word for departure in the Greek in this passage is “Exodus.” Jesus is about to bring in a second and greater Exodus, the liberation of his people, and their journey from slavery to freedom, death to life, but it is to be through his own self-offering.
This story of Jesus’ transfiguration, and the talk of his “Passing over,” faces us with a strange tangle of glory and sacrifice. The Gospel, as always, speaks into the reality of our world and our lives. We all know that tangle of hope and despair in our lives. The events in Ukraine reveal the stark contrast between what humans can be, for good or for evil. Into this place of fear and denial, hope and longing, God brings his Son, the light from light, the true God from true God, He come into this conflicted space, and through the gift of his Spirit opens out possibilities for us, the chance to change, the chance to change the world. In St Paul’s words, we can be changed “from one degree of glory to another.” He knows it in his own life change. Saul, hell-bent of destruction, becomes Paul, the builder of communities of love and fellowship. The arrival of Lent challenges us to look once more at where we are on the spectrum between glory and darkness, the choice to work to transform our true humanity, by offering ourselves in love and commitment to others, or walking along primrose paths of unreality, or rushing hell-bent down paths of self-destruction. One of them sounds a much surer path than the other!!!