11 February – Sunday next before Lent – Holy Communion at Great Brickhill
Reading 2 Corinthians 4:3—6
[Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.] 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
Gospel Mark 9:2—9
2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
5 Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ 6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’
8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
Today can be called Transfiguration Sunday. The gospel reading describes the transfiguration of Jesus, witnessed by Peter, James and John—when Jesus’ clothes shone with the light of the divine—and when he was associated as Messiah with the law and the prophets in the form of Moses and Elijah. It was a theophany when the glory of God broke through into our dimension—and God revealed his glory to the disciples in the form of his son.
It’s not hard to see why those who chose our readings selected the episode when Elijah was taken up into heaven—witnessed by his protégé Elisha who succeeded him. But both of these readings are reflected in the passage from II Corinthians—and that’s what I want to spend a few minutes talking about this morning.
Paul, in this extract from his second letter, gives us a profound illustration of how we ourselves are transfigured by a double manifestation:
· Firstly—we see Jesus revealed in his glory as the image of God.
· Secondly—we see the glory of God in the face of Jesus the Messiah.
You only have to look back at the previous chapter for reassurance that this is what is meant.
In II Corinthians 3:18, Paul speaks about how—through the Spirit of the Lord—all of us, with “unveiled faces,” can “behold” and “reflect” the glory of the Lord as in a mirror. The Greek word kataprizomai can mean both “to behold” and “to reflect.” We behold the glory of God, and reflect that glory to the world.
As this happens, we are “transformed” into the image of Christ, from one degree of glory to another.
To stand in the light is a revealing place to be. The light shows up the darkness in stark relief. The light overcomes the darkness and banishes it altogether. Even a tiny candle cuts through the darkest of night. But this means we have nowhere to hide. We must renounce the shame of the sin we would rather hide. And we must boldly manifest the truth of who we are—through the gospel that shines through us—to everyone we encounter, wherever we might be.
How does this happen, especially amid the suffering in our lives? We feel unworthy, and shamed by our vulnerability and sin. Does our sheer unpredictability not veil the truth of the gospel in our lives?
The answer must be that the mirror we have been given is perfect and spotless. It is lossless and shines with the glory of God—sending back a true reflection unaffected by the failures and shame of the bearer.
The crucified Messiah whom we reflect shares the vulnerability and suffering in our lives, through his incarnation. The light is not veiled nor are we blinded by it. Nothing will prevent our seeing, shining and reflecting the light of the gospel that is disclosed.
We do not just stand mute, but our hearts are transformed by the light. We see God’s glory in the face of the Messiah. This transfiguration leads us to confess that Jesus the Messiah is Lord, and to disclose this revelation to others through the glory in the face of Jesus that we reflect.
All this is exceptionally hard to understand. In trying to explain it, I’m not sure I grasp it myself. I certainly found myself reading and re-reading the texts—and I suggest you might do the same.
There are implications for Transfiguration Sunday. Ostensibly we are told and will understand more about who Jesus is—reflecting as he does the glory of God the Father. The light of Jesus the Messiah’s glory discloses the Wisdom of God. Mercifully it’s not necessary for us to fully understand the nature of the light we are called to reflect.
What the passage from II Corinthians says about Jesus also says something about what we become in him. The light of the gospel entails both seeing and shining. We not only behold the image of God in Jesus’s face but reflect its glory. We are not untouched by this process, but are transfigured by it. We are transformed by the light of God shining in our hearts.
All this does not happen in some holy and separate transcendent space, but in the midst of our messy and all too human lives. Just as Jesus carried around with him the Messiah’s sufferings for us, we bear his death in our bodies.
The lectionary does not include the first 3 verses of the chapter, but it starts like this:
Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. Amen