Sub Dean - Revd Canon Michael Rawson
One summer evening a couple were walking home from a prayer meeting at the local Roman Catholic Church.
It had been a hot day and there were lots of people out enjoying themselves; the smell of barbecues hung in the air and people spilled out of the local pubs sitting and drinking on the pavements. As they neared their home they could see a young man lying on the floor. At first they thought he’d had too much to drink. But as they came closer they could see that he had been injured. He was lying in a pool of blood. They used their mobile to ring for an ambulance and then the woman knelt by the young man, cradling his head in her arms. She whispered over and over into his ear, “God loves you ... you are loved”. They were the last words the man heard as he died in her arms. It’s a true story and the man was Stephen Lawrence.
This afternoon we begin our celebrations of the feast of the Transfiguration. We meet Jesus today in the second reading at a time of real uncertainly and difficulty, ‘now my soul is troubled.’ Jesus sensed the violent end that was just around the corner. So Jesus took his companions up the mountain for a time of reflection and prayer, bringing the situation before God. Suddenly his appearance changed and Moses and Elijah appear. Out of the prayer and waiting upon God, comes an intense experience of the presence of the divine. Jesus was comforted and affirmed in his task, and given the strength to face it. ‘This is my Son, my Chosen’. God is saying quite simply, ‘I love you’. Jesus received a glimpse of glory in the darkness of his agony strengthened him to go to Jerusalem and all that awaited him.
Life for all of us can seem pretty dark and lacking hope at times. Times when everything goes wrong and life seems to be on the edge of falling apart completely. We can’t see a way ahead and it can feel as though God is far from us, maybe even abandoned us. It’s then that we too need a transfiguration experience, to hear God whispering in our ears, ‘You are my daughter, my son, my Chosen. I love you.’ And, thank God, there are times when there is a glimpse of glory and things do make sense, even just for a moment.
Peter wanted to hang on to the experience of the presence of God but it wasn’t given to them as an escape from the struggle, but rather to help them to face it. Those glimpses of glory that we also experience, wonderful though they are, are also not for us to possess and doggedly hang on to; rather they are gifts to get us through the moments of darkness and despair. It’s a natural human instinct to want to hold on to the familiar, the good. Like Peter, it’s hardly surprising that we don’t want to go back to the everyday and ordinary if we can possibly avoid it. But it wasn’t an option for him; neither is to for us. We all long to hear those words from God, ‘I love you ... you are loved.’ We need to use the experience to illuminate the rest of our lives, and to strengthen us to live through the darkness, the mess, and the brokeness.