Exodus 34.29-end, Psalm 99, 2 Corinthians 3.12-4.2 & Luke 9.28-36 – Year C
Four days ago I already had my sermon for today. I was quite pleased with it, actually. It had an amusing story about how a mistranslation of the Vulgate, the Latin Bible, had led the sculptor Michelangelo to create a statue of Moses with horns instead of a veil. It had, I think, a light touch.
But as I sat watching the events unfold on Thursday, as tanks rolled into Ukraine, the world became much darker. A couple of weeks ago there was a whole country who thought they knew what the future held. It was a time of tentative respite and recovery following two years of pandemic and full of the day to day-ness of life: work, school, and every day special events, birthdays, weddings, a night out at a show, a football match….
And now the people of Ukraine are facing the reality of war. Incredibly brave people are protesting against the war in cities across Russia, knowing they risk arrest and worse. People are fleeing their homes, or making the unspeakable decision to take up arms. For them the world has changed. For us too.
There will be time enough later to reflect on what this all means, to ask the difficult questions, such as ‘where is God in all of this?’ and ‘what, if anything, could we have done differently to prevent this?’ What words we speak now must be chosen with care, for broken hearts and open wounds will feel sharply even the slightest mis-touch.
This is also a great responsibility which now falls upon the priests and ministers of Ukraine and Russia, to care for and comfort their people, and to lay so many to rest. Without realising it, people will be looking to them and there will be expectations upon them, and they will need our prayers to help them.
Because prayers matter.
It would be easy to hear today’s Gospel reading on the Transfiguration with its vision of Christ’s future glory, and get the idea that it doesn’t matter that nation rises against nation, with all the pain that entails because everything will be alright after death.
But the Incarnation of Jesus denies that – Jesus came in human flesh because God cares about us, body as well as soul, right here and now and in eternity.
So what are we left with? We are left with three readings which are about encounters with God face to face. The New Testament readings underline who Jesus is. The Transfiguration is a moment when we see heaven and earth touch, and we are given a glimpse of just who has come to save and redeem us.
Peter, James and John did not know that their journey was taking them to stand at the foot of the Cross; however we do. It means that as we enter Lent we do so with this image of the Transfiguration in our minds, of Jesus radiant with the glory of God. We take that knowledge with us as we travel with Christ to the Cross, for we know we are walking with our God, who understands our suffering, feels our pain. And he walked that path to bring us life, life in its fullness.
Even when the clouds descend and overwhelm us, we are encouraged to keep listening for God’s voice, for his invitation to listen to his Son, Jesus, his chosen and beloved. Trust in Jesus, and as we spend more time with him, we will be changed from glory into glory as we become more Christ-like.
As we go into Lent, it’s worth taking the time to think how we could use these 6 weeks as a spiritual journey of peace with Jesus, just as Peter and James and John did, out of the busyness of our daily lives, to a quiet space, to pray, to study, to read the Bible, the Law and the prophets, and to simply be with God.
We don’t have to worry about what will happen on the other side of our encounter with Jesus. We don’t have to plan ahead and start building. We can simply spend this time in wonder and awe as one who is invited to come and listen to Jesus.
And do not underestimate the power of prayer. Prayer transforms our hearts. It gives us strength and courage and inspires us to action.
And ask God to protect the innocent, to hold back hands that harm, to inspire those in positions of authority to influence decisions that will make for a just and lasting peace. Prayer matters. Prayer changes things.
This Lent by gazing upon the light of Christ, may we too be transformed and then reflect his light into the world. For the world is more in need of it than ever before.
(Artwork: ‘Dove of Peace, 1949’ by Pablo Picasso)