Sunday next Before Lent
14 February 2021
A Psalm of Asaph.
The mighty one, God the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God shines forth.
Our God comes and does not keep silence,
before him is a devouring fire,
and a mighty tempest all around him.
He calls to the heavens above
and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
‘Gather to me my faithful ones,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!’
The heavens declare his righteousness,
for God himself is judge.
2 Kings 2: 1-12
ow when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.’ But Elisha said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So they went down to Bethel. The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, ‘Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I know; keep silent.’
Elijah said to him, ‘Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.’ But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So they came to Jericho. The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, ‘Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?’ And he answered, ‘Yes, I know; be silent.’
Then Elijah said to him, ‘Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.’ But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.’ Elisha said, ‘Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.’ He responded, ‘You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.’ As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, ‘Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’ But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
2 corinthians 4: 3-6
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 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.
Mark 9: 2-9
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said 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.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
East Window, Saint Margaret's, Hothfield
whose Son was revealed in majesty
before he suffered death upon the cross:
give us grace to perceive his glory,
that we may be strengthened to suffer with him
and be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
you know the disorder of our sinful lives:
set straight our crooked hearts,
and bend our wills to love your goodness
and your glory in Jesus Christ our Lord.
This reading comes after Jesus has been talking about his death and resurrection to his disciples, so they were very confused and perhaps depressed about what Jesus’ life was all about.
It could be that the Transfiguration was introduced by God and Jesus at this time to give the disciples more hope and encouragement. Altogether a very difficult time for the disciples and Jesus. Perhaps Jesus needed confirmation that how he saw his future and death was actually in line with God's will. Remember that Jesus was human as well as divine. He had doubts and worries just like us.
We are face to face with an incident in the life of Jesus that is cloaked in mystery and really quite extraordinary and in many ways "out of this world".
Tradition says that the Transfiguration took place on the top of Mount Tabor. Tabor is in the south of Galilee and Caesarea Philippi is in the north. Tabor is only 1,000 feet high and at the time of Jesus there was a fortress on the top. It is much more likely that this event took place on Mount Hermon which is 9,200 feet high and much nearer Caeserea Philippi and where the solitude would be much more complete.
What happened we cannot tell. We can only bow in reverence as we try to understand. Mark tells us that the garments of Jesus were radiant. The word he uses (stilbein) is the word used for the glistening gleam of burnished brass or gold or of the golden glare of the sunlight. When the incident came to an end a cloud overshadowed them.
In Jewish thought the presence of God is regularly connected with the cloud. It was in the cloud that Moses met God. It was in the cloud that God came to the tabernacle. It was the cloud which filled the Temple when it was dedicated after Solomon had built it, and it was the dream of the Jews that when the Messiah came the cloud of God's presence would return to the Temple. The descent of the cloud is a way of saying that the Messiah had come, and any Jew would understand it like that.
The Transfiguration has a double significance, one for Jesus and one for the disciples.
It did something very important for Jesus. He had to take his own decisions. He had taken the decision to go to Jerusalem (against the advice of his disciples) which meant his crucifixion and death. Obviously, he had to be absolutely sure that was right before he could go on. On the mountain top he received a double approval of his decision.
I think at this point we have to remind ourselves that Jesus was human as well as divine. He lived his life on Earth as we do with all the temptations, worries and uncertainty. He was in close contact with God via prayer throughout his life which is why he was able to do God's will. And how he received the strength to do so. We, too, can live our lives the same way if we keep in contact with God through prayer and reading the Bible.
Moses and Elijah met with Jesus. Now Moses was the supreme law-giver of Israel. To him the nation owed the laws of God. Elijah was the first and the greatest of the prophets.
When these two great figures met with Jesus it meant that the greatest of the law-givers and the greatest of the prophets said to Jesus "Go on". It meant that they saw in Jesus the consummation of all they had dreamed of in the past. It meant that they saw in him all that history had longed for and hoped for and looked forward to. It was as if at that moment Jesus was assured that he was on the right way because all history had been leading up to the Cross.
God also spoke with Jesus. As always Jesus did not rely on his own wishes but went to God and effectively said " what will you have me do?". He put all his plans and intentions before God and God said "You are acting as my own beloved Son should act and must act. Go on!
On the mountain of the Transfiguration Jesus was assured that he had not chosen the wrong way. He saw, not only the inevitability, but the essential rightness of the Cross.
The significance of the Transfiguration for the disciples was that it gave them something to hold on to when they could not understand. Cross or no Cross they had heard God's voice acknowledge Jesus as His Son. However they were still shattered by Jesus statement that he was going to Jerusalem to die. That seemed to them the complete negation of all that they understood of the Messiah.
This time on the mountain had shown them the glory of Christ and now they had the story of his glory to hide in their hearts and to tell people at the right moment.
Jesus, of course, told them not to talk about their experience on the mountain. The disciples had to learn what Messiahship meant. This would only come after the Cross and Resurrection and his appearance again on Earth to the disciples and others before he ascended to his Father and our Father.