Sunday, 14th February: the Sunday before Lent

Welcome to this week’s service which comes from St Nicolas Church. The service is about half an hour in length. The Gospel reading and the text of our sermon and the intercessions are below should you wish to follow them or look at them again. The link to This Week’s Notices is at the bottom.

The Gospel Reading: Mark 9: 2-9. The Transfiguration

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. 

Our Sermon: from Rev Jane Cresswell, our Vicar

 Today, as we get ready for Ash Wednesday and the gruelling journey through Lent, we read another story which reveals that the baby born in the manger is truly the Son of God. For on the Mount of Transfiguration, we see clearly for the first time his divine nature. 

Mark describes this transfiguration effect that Peter, James and John saw in Jesus like this: “his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them”. This was more than an exterior sign; it was Jesus’ divinity shining through his humanity.  This was for Jesus and the disciples the assurance that Jesus was the Son of’ God, that all he had proclaimed about himself was indeed true.   And Mark records the voice from heaven which affirms this truth, though the disciples don’t really grasp it fully.  And it is from this place of transfiguration that Jesus embarks on the final stage of his mission, his final journey to Jerusalem where he would encounter the cross.

Mountains have always played an important part of God’s experience with humankind. 

Mount Sinai

Moses received the 10 commandments on Mt. Sinai, Elijah heard the still small voice of God while hiding in a cave on a mountain, the city of Jerusalem was built on a mountain top and here Jesus is transfigured on a mountain top. 

And it is no mere chance that two of Israel’s most important mountain top heroes appear with him.  Moses, representing the law that had been given to God’s people, and Elijah, the most famous of God’s prophets sent to call the people away from their faithlessness and back into godly living.  Meeting these two people from the Old Testament is important for it shows that Jesus is linked with the past history of the nation’ of Israel. This was God s revelation to tie Jesus in tightly with the past, to root him firmly in Israel’s history. Two of Israel’s biggest saints are here on the mountain, two close companions of God.

And the disciples would have known the story of how when Moses received God’s law on Mount Sinai and then came down the mountain to share it with God’s people his face shone so brightly that he had to wear a veil to protect the eyes of those who might look at him.  And here is that great light again at the Feast of Transfiguration.  The light tells the disciples that they are in the presence of Almighty God.   It reassures, it challenges and it changes their perspective.

And we can understand the need for that.  Sometimes the reality of life is harsh and difficult, there may be tough things ahead, and it helps to go to a high place to see things in a right perspective and a fresh light.  One of my favourite walks during periods of lockdown is down towards Taplow Riverside and the Jubilee River, 

and I love the feeling of space when I stand at the top of the slope looking across the fields and down across the new Riverside development and over Maidenhead.   Whatever the problem or struggle we are grappling with might be, it is cut down to size when we are able to stand back, and get a different perspective from higher ground.  

For Jesus disciples the mountain-top experience is awe inspiringly bright, but it points to things they will experience that are far from bright.  Somehow these things have to be held together: the mountain-top vista of splendour and the cold-grey clamminess of perplexing hurt as, with Jesus, they set their faces towards Jerusalem and the cross.  Our human inclination is to wish away the costliness of glory, but it cannot be.  God gives us a glimpse of glory and the reality of the eternal to sustain us through the harsh reality of life.

Up on the mountain the disciples hear God’s voice through the shadow of the cloud – cloud that at one and the same time enables them to know the holiness and presence of God and points them to the cloud of despair that signifies the cross that is to come.

This is a holy mystery – we keep company with Jesus and catch glimpses of his glory, and we keep company with Jesus who lays aside that glory to suffer and die for us on the cross. 

Wordsworth’s poem “Ode on intimation of immortality” sums up what we need to remember but are so prone to forget:

Trailing clouds of glory … and yet we need to keep sight of that immortal sea not only in the seasons of calm weather, but cling on to that vision through the worst terrors of life’s storms.

As the old hymn puts it so well … Jesus calls us o’er the tumult of the world’s wild restless sea.  And his light will bring us safely home.

This Week’s Notices: Click this link to read the notices