‘TIS GOOD, LORD, TO BE HERE – A Sermon for the Sunday Next Before Lent
Preached by Canon Gary Philbrick at St Mary’s, Fordingbridge, Sunday, February 26th, 9.30a.m.
II Pet 1:16-21, Matt 17:1-9
This Sunday Before Lent, in our Lectionary of readings, is Transfiguration Sunday. Both readings we have heard are about the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain top – either telling the story of Jesus himself on the mountain top in the Gospel Reading; or reflecting on that story years later, when the author of II Peter writes ‘We had been eyewitnesses of his majesty’.
‘Transfiguration’ is a tricky word to translate. We could use the Latin ‘Transformation’, or the Greek ‘Metamorphosis’, or the more commonly used ‘Transfiguration’. Whichever word we use, it’s about one thing being changed into another, or, to put it another way, something being revealed for what it really is – in this case, the true nature of Jesus.
In the Orthodox Church of the East, icons are vital to the well-being of the Church, and the Icon of the Transfiguration, of which we have a copy here, is thought of as the foundational icon of them all. The essential thing about the Icon of the Transfiguration is that it reveals what some of the Orthodox call ‘The Light of the Eighth Day’ [See, e.g., Gregory Palamas at http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/38767.htm]. This is the light of the end of the Book of Revelation, the light which needs neither Sun nor Moon to make it shine, the light in which we will all bathe after the end of time, the light which will sweep us all up into the love of God at the end of all things, the light revealed by Jesus on the mountain top, and seen by Peter and James and John.
The Icon of the Transfiguration
And what is Peter’s response to this vision of glory, when Jesus is transfigured, and Moses and Elijah appear with him? In the words of the Transfiguration hymn we sang before the Gospel:
’Tis good, Lord, to be here,
Thy glory fills the night;
Thy face and garments, like the sun,
Shine with unborrowed light.
‘It’s great here, Lord, with you in glory and with the others – let me build three huts for you, so that we can stay here and enjoy the glory.’
I hope that’s a sentiment we could echo this morning: ‘Tis good, Lord, to be here’. Good to worship and witness together, to be together in this ancient and prayerful building, and to be, I hope, stronger together than we would be apart.
Good to be together for what Milton Jones, very appropriately after last weekend, describes in one of his 10 Second Sermons: ‘Church should be like everyone arriving with one piece of the jigsaw’ [Milton Jones, 10 Second Sermons…and even quicker illustrations, p. 20].
But it’s not only when we are gathered that the Church is important; it’s also when we are scattered.
The last verse of the hymn I’ve already quoted is:
’Tis good, Lord, to be here.
Yet we may not remain;
But since Thou bidst us leave the mount,
Come with us to the plain.
Milton Jones [ibid.] puts it like this: ‘If we’re on a journey: in the same way that the services are not the motorway, a Church is not the Services’.
Our time together on a Sunday morning sends us out for our Christian lives lived in the rest of our week, in all the different places where we find ourselves. Here, in Church, is the Service Station, if you like, where we are re-fuelled and refreshed, re-awakened to God’s Word, and his presence in Word and Sacrament, and re-charged to go out from here to serve him in all that we do, and with all that we have.
Jesus, with Peter, James and John, had to come down from the mountain. And, in fact, none of them had very long to bask in the glory. The next story in Matthew 17, which we shall hear at Evensong this evening, as soon as Jesus comes down from the mountain, is of Jesus meeting the crowd, healing an epileptic boy, and straight after that he predicts his death. And that’s so often the case for us, as well. We may have a wonderful time of worship, but then, as soon as we leave, the reality of life crowds in on us again – but it is precisely there, in the realities and difficulties of everyday life, that God is to be found. Not just on the mountain top, but out in the real world as well. If our faith doesn’t do anything for us on a Monday morning, then what we have done on a Sunday hasn’t really been very helpful.
‘’Tis good, Lord, to be here’, but, Lord, when we go, ‘Come with us to the plain’, be with us in the day to day realities of our life, in our relationships with others, in our family or health problems, in all the joys and sadnesses of everyday life.
‘’Tis good, Lord, to be here’.
One last quote from Milton Jones [Ibid.]: ‘Church is a bit like being a member of a gym. Some people like the idea of going but don’t. Others go, but aren’t really training for anything. And some actually use it to help them with the race they’re running.’
What is the race we are running? What are we training for? You could say we training for mountain climbing! We’re training to be up there on the mountain top with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, Peter, James and John. We training here on earth to be Kingdom Builders, so that we may join in God’s work here, and finally be with him for ever in heaven, where the Kingdom of God will be complete, and we’ll live in the Light of the Eighth Day, on the mountain top for ever.
That’s quite an exciting race to be running, and one that is worth the training!
At the end of the Service, in the Blessing, I shall pray:
Send us out, we pray,
to shine with your light,
to forgive with your generosity,
to love with your kindness
in the world where you send us,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.