Homily St Mary’s Marlborough 3rd March 2019
Sunday next before Lent: Exodus 34.29-35 & Luke 9.28-43a
On this last Sunday before Lent, we traditionally hear the account of Jesus’ transfiguration before his disciples. It has strong resonances with the account of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, and it is a few of those I would like to explore this morning.
Firstly, both Moses and Jesus intentionally seek God. Although we believe that God’s presence is always with us, and He can meet us in unexpected places and at unexpected times, there are times in life when we need to seek God through prayer. The start the season of Lent this Wednesday may be a good opportunity to commit ourselves anew to an active seeking of God, as we worship and pray – for example using the Praying Together resources that Salisbury Diocese is offering.
Both Moses and Jesus go up to a mountain to seek and find God. Moses on his own, Jesus with Peter, John and James. Again, notwithstanding our belief that God is everywhere, I suspect that also we at times need to go somewhere to meet God. It can be on our own, or it can be in company, but sometimes a change of environment can facilitate our encounter with God. It can be going to Church, going for a walk, or going on retreat. Whatever it is, it needs to be intentional.
The encounter between Moses and God, and Jesus and God, is direct in some ways, but indirect in others. Although they hear the voice of God directly, his appearance is hidden in a cloud. Also here, I think, is a relevant message for our own encounters with God. They are obvious in some ways – like hearing a voice, but mysterious in others – hidden by a cloud. Sometimes pupils ask me if I have seen God. My answer is ‘no’, but I have heard His call, or maybe better, experienced His presence.
Lastly, both Moses and Jesus are changed by their encounter with God. The skin of Moses’ face is shining, and also the appearance of Jesus’ face changes, and his clothes become dazzling white. Even if we don’t realise it ourselves, like Moses, others notice the change in us when we have encountered God.
Often, people are scared by the change they see: in Moses’ case, the people were afraid to come near him. I probably would have the same reaction. Indeed, when you see someone you know literally shining because of what has happened to them, you probably approach them with a slight trepidation. I’m not sure, though, why that is. It may be the unknown, the question what has happened to them, what has changed. Or it may be that we are suddenly more aware of our own shortcomings in the face of someone who is reflecting God’s glory.
In any case, whether we have had such experiences ourselves, or whether we have seen their effects in others, they change us, but we cannot hold on to them: the change is permanent, but the encounter itself is only there for the moment, and we need to come back down: back to our daily routine, back to the tasks that lie ahead of us.
These two stories may not be a bad analogy for the Lenten journey that lies ahead of us. A journey with moments of encounter and recognition when we intentionally seek God and find him. Moments that don’t last themselves, but their effects continue to shape our lives. That is the journey of faith, a journey with highs and lows, and a journey that continues as long as we live.