Saturday, 18 February 2012
Mountain top to wilderness
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. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.
Why does the Transfiguration make one of its appearances in the Lectionary just before the start of Lent?
I'm sure there will be as many answers to that as there are preachers.
But this year, in preparing our Lenten worship programme, I have been struck between the eyes by the progression of the Christian season - from Advent, through Christmas, into Epiphany and, now, into Lent.
This was partly triggered by being in New Orleans, Louisiana, witnessing some of the Mardi Gras celebrations that begin on Epiphany, (6th January), gathering momentum right through to Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras). But it was also fueled by a clergy colleague asking me: "What, for you, is the most natural direction for your theology - is it seen from the perspective of the cross, looking back or from the perspective of the crib looking forward?"
That question helped me to crystallise that my preferred theology is Incarnational. What is important, for me, is God entering and interacting with the world. For me, the love of God was first shown in the stable in Bethlehem. And, while the cross is a pretty huge part of the whole outplaying and outpouring of that love of God,(an understatement if ever there was one!), Jesus' death was not possible without his birth.
Depending on the tradition in which we have been steeped, or the particular brand of faith we have adopted, we tend to view God's activity in the world through different lenses - seeing everything through the lens of the violence of the cross, or through the lens of the vulnerability of the crib.
Another colleague pointed out to me recently how much I like to wear a heart around my neck, rather than a cross. And that too, I believe, reflects my preference to embrace the loving action of God present in our world rather than God's death on the cross, even though love triumphed over evil in the resurrection.
And so to Transfiguration Sunday and its place in the hustle toward Lent.
It seems to me that when Jesus glows on the mountain top, surprising his disciples, and his Lordship or Son of Godship is confirmed in the voice from Heaven, what was important was that they didn't linger in the dazzle but that they got themselves back down the mountain to pick up on the nitty gritty.
And so, worship wise and lectionary wise, we move from that fluorescent moment to the grit and dust of the desert where Jesus fasted and faced temptation.
And we take time to "get with the programme" as Jesus did.
Lent affords us the opportunity to contemplate Jesus' ministry and to reflect on God's activity and presence in the world of our everyday.
And, whatever our theology, we cradle a vulnerable, loving God, born in us, living in the grit of the world. From the crib to the cross.