A sermon given at Choral Eucharist by The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson, on the 7th August 2022, The Feast of Transfiguration.

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

This Sunday we remember the story of the Transfiguration. The story told of Jesus climbing a mountain, three of his disciples watching from a distance. The story of Jesus shining like the sun, transfigured before them, his clothes becoming dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them, the text says. And the disciples see Elijah with Moses, talking with Jesus. 

The story is told in the Gospel of Mark. And the context is critical. Just before this story is told, Jesus and his disciples are at Caeserea Philippi. Two days journey away to the north of the Sea of Galilee, twenty five miles from the place of Jesus’ ministry, this centre of Roman power is the place where Mark sets the turning point of his gospel, the place where Jesus turns towards Jerusalem. Here a conversation takes place between Jesus and his disciples which has Jesus and those disciples turning on one another as they struggle to come to terms with one of the key questions of this gospel. When they were there, at Caeserea Philippi, Jesus asks them the question. The identity question.

“Who do people say that I am?” Jesus asks. We see the disciples struggle with this until Peter names Jesus, “Messiah” but then the struggle continues as Jesus tells them, almost unkindly, what being a “Messiah” means. They don’t get it, of course. Jesus teaches them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. This awful truth he teaches them, just when they thought everything was going to be ok.

Peter is like us, exposes us, all our insecurity, all through the gospel really.

 Peter rebukes Jesus, tells him it cannot be. And then the sharpness of Jesus’ speech increases and he tells Peter that his mind is on human things not the things of God, as our own minds would often be.

But then there is this mountain. It is six days later and Jesus takes Peter and James and John there, just the four of them, alone at first. And Jesus is transfigured before them. And as he appears in the dazzling light before them, Elijah and Moses, representing all their faith, the Law and the Prophets, the heart of the Jewish faith, are seen talking with Jesus. Just a few days after they have heard such difficult truths about Jesus, he takes them there up a mountain. Mountains after all are the God places. The place to look more deeply at the truth. The truth that Jesus shines like the sun, in the company of the givers of the faith.

And Peter again is like us, exposes us, our longing to cling to comfort in the face of struggle. Peter wants to keep them there, at least for a time.

Then Peter says to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ Let’s set up camp. Let’s keep this at least for a time.

But a cloud overshadows them, and from the cloud God speaks. God is giving God’s thoughts on the identity question.  “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus asked the disciples, at Caeserea Philippi. This is what God thinks. ‘This is my Son, the Beloved.’ God says, echoing God’s words at Jesus’ baptism. ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’

And then the transfiguration ends. Suddenly when they look around, they see no one with them anymore, but only Jesus. Only it’s not only Jesus. It’s Jesus who is with them. And what God would have those baffled disciples understand is that this is all they need. The one who is called Messiah, the one who will suffer and die, the one who God calls “Beloved.” What God would have them know, is that this is enough, this is everything. That life and death and redemption is found in him.

What of those disciples, what of us? Were they transfigured? Perhaps we might use a different word. Were they transformed by their encounter with Jesus and what they saw on the mountain? What transformation might have taken place in them as they followed this Jesus who they had seen shining like the sun. What transformation might take place in us? On those precious moments when we glimpse something of the truth of the presence of God, of Jesus, of love enfolding us perhaps. What transformation might take place in us?

As we know the bishops of the Anglican Communion are gathered at Lambeth in the United Kingdom for a conference. The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, said the following at the conference:

The [Anglican Church] makes disciples. That is what we are about. Disciples made peace, disciples made justice: We are not here to build an earthly empire of an institution called the Church. Be angels. Be messengers of the good news. Evangelism is our core truth.

Our beautiful cathedral, shining as it does some days in the sun, rising to the heavens as we drive towards it on a Sunday morning, our beautiful cathedral is here for one thing. Our music, soaring, whispering, proclaiming the wonder of God, the struggle of being a human being, …the words of the scriptures read and reflected upon, flowers loving arranged, windows and wood, crafted by those with such gifts, are all to tell us one thing really. God names us beloved, us and all creation. And we are to be transformed into disciples. We are not here to build an earthly empire of an institution called the Church. We are to be angels. To be messengers of the good news.

We are to be transformed into disciples. The ones who tell the good news. As Peter and James and John were, trudging along in the footsteps of Jesus. With a memory of him shining like the sun.

We are to be transformed into disciples. Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote this about “being disciples”, is his book of that name. He said this:

“Discipleship is a state of being. Discipleship is about how we live; not just the decisions we make, not just the things we believe, but a state of being. … Discipleship has something to do with staying. …In other words, what makes you a disciple is not turning up from time to time. Discipleship may literally mean ‘being a student’, in the strictly Greek sense for the word, but it doesn’t mean turning up once a week for a course (or even a sermon). It’s not an intermittent state; it’s a relationship that continues. …In the ancient world … to be a student of a teacher was to commit yourself to living in the same atmosphere and breathing the same air;… [it] is a state of being in which you are looking and listening without interruption.”[1] He continues quoting a poet David Jones who said of God “It is easy to miss him at the turn of a civilization.”. Rowan Williams continues, “Discipleship as awareness is trying to develop those skills that help you not to miss God, to miss Jesus Christ, at the turn of a civilization, or anywhere else.”[2]

Discipleship as awareness is trying to develop those skills that help you not to miss God, to miss Jesus Christ …

There are moments, mountain peak moments, like the one described in our gospel reading. There are such moments. And we are here as disciples to drink in these moments, be grateful for them, perhaps write about them or tell them to a trusted friend. But we can’t keep them. Build tents to capture them. Have you every tried to photograph a rainbow? Or place a moment of love in a box? Holy moments don’t seem to work like that. But we are called to stay. To live in relationship with Jesus, with God, who so often we cannot see or hear, and yet… As Rowan Williams says we might commit ourselves to living in the same atmosphere and breathing the same air …

And then to make peace, to make justice, to be messengers of good news.

We might feel in our time and place that we are at the turn of a civilization. For the world is full of struggle and pain. Which is why Jesus suffered and died in solidarity with the world. And yet, God in that God sized event of the resurrection, reimagined suffering and death. Redeemed it, redeemed creation. And the transfiguration hints at that. Gives the hope of that.

So, as we come down the mountain, as the disciples had to do, is it possible that we too might live as disciples, as ones who nurture an awareness that helps us not to miss God, to miss Jesus Christ, at the turn of a civilization, or anywhere else. And who go into the world to be messengers of the good news of the God who names us beloved.

[1] Rowan Williams Being Disciples p1-2.

[2] Ibid., p3.