I wonder what it was like for Lucy the first time she discovered Narnia. Doing something as ordinary as playing hide and seek, waiting in a wardrobe to be found and then stumbling through into another world. I wonder what it would be like to realise that this other world had always existed and yet to be experiencing it for the first time. And then to come back to this world, knowing that Narnia existed, that in Narnia, Aslan is King. How would it change your life here if you knew that this other world had always and would always exist? That life here on this one was but momentary? To know that what you see is not all that is…
In a small way, the events that we have heard about in the Gospel reading today, what we often call the Transfiguration, are a bit like this.
It begins with Jesus and his disciples doing something quite ordinary – going up to a mountainside to pray. And while they are there something happens that is miraculous, out of this world, unbelievable even. First, as Jesus is praying his appearance changes. Then, Moses and Elijah who have been long dead appear and talk with him about his death and resurrection. Finally, God shows up in the form of a cloud and a voice that speaks directly to the disciples. I don’t know about you, but it this is so far removed from my experience of everyday life that it is hard for me to imagine. It is about as fantastical as walking through the back of a wardrobe to Narnia. And yet here it is, not a fictional story but a narrative of the life and work of Jesus Christ. Like Lucy back in the wardrobe from Narnia, or the disciples once they came down from the mountain – if we allow it to this story of the transfiguration can change our lives too.
Jesus is the central character in this story. This story is firstly about Jesus’ desire to talk with his Father. He invites his disciples to come up the mountain to pray. And it is WHILE he is praying that he is transfigured.
I wonder what Jesus would have been praying about? We get a clue from the last episode in Luke before the transfiguration Peter recognises that Jesus is “God’s Messiah”. Jesus then talks about his death and resurrection before saying: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it”.
If these passages are anything to go by Jesus is very aware of the trials that he himself must go through. And here in the midst of this awareness of these circumstances and his prayer, God sends Elijah and Moses to talk with him about what will happen to him. They are there as gifts from God, to strengthen Jesus for the task ahead. … Elijah and Moses, these two great figures from Jewish history are there talking with Jesus about what God will accomplish through Jesus. Where “Jesus will lead all God’s people out of the slavery of sin and death, and home to their promised inheritance” … a place in the Kingdom of God. For Jesus then, as he descends this mountain through the valley of suffering towards his death, the transfiguration reminds him that what he sees, what he experiences is not all that is – that through this Jesus will become King.
What about Jesus’ disciples? They must have accompanied Jesus to pray numerous times during his ministry. But this time they see Jesus transfigured before their eyes. And in that moment – like Lucy stumbling out of that wardrobe – they see another world. A world in which Jesus is not just a man, but where his future Glory as the Son of God is revealed. Today’s reading from Daniel tells us:
“To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.”
The disciples are given a glimpse of this world, one to which they already belong and yet one which is still to come. It is the world in which Jesus is King – now and forever. As today’s reading from Peter says, at the transfiguration Jesus’ disciples were “eyewitnesses to his majesty.”
Yet their glimpse of the world where Christ in glory reigns is brief. There is a temptation to stay in this moment. Peter even suggests that they build three tents for Jesus, Elijah and Moses. Completely missing the point about who Jesus is. That Jesus is no mere prophet. He is the Son of God and he has come to establish his Kingdom on earth.
In His kindness, God speaks to the disciples. A cloud comes all around them – the very presence of God and a voice comes from the cloud “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” If they had any doubts about who Jesus was, they are no longer. And because they KNOW now who Jesus is they are now to go forth into this world as if Jesus is King. They cannot live their lives the same way. They go forth in the knowledge that what they see, is not all that is.
And so it is for us. Unlike the disciples – we know the rest of the narrative. That it was down from that mountaintop and through the valley of suffering that Jesus would accomplish his glory. That he would be raised from the dead, victorious, and that he is seated at the right hand of the Father. What we see is not all that is. The reality is that God’s Kingdom has been established and it will have no end. The reality is that Jesus Christ is King.
But do our lives reflect this truth? The question that we must ask is, are we living for God’s Kingdom now? Do we live as if we believe that Jesus is King now? Do we live lives that reveal that Jesus is King now?
These are big questions. But they deserve our attention and reflection. Writing this message has given me the opportunity to reflect. As I have been writing I have been confronted with what this might mean in my own life and there is one example that I want to share with you.
For several years Paul and I have had a friend who pops in an out of our lives. I’m going to call him Max. Max usually turns up in our lives when he is in need of something.
Max had a traumatic upbringing that wounded him physically, emotionally and psychologically. We first met Max when in his thirties and living on the street with his partner addicted to sniffing glue. This was before Paul and I were married. For some time Max stayed in Paul’s home. Then Max came and stayed in my flat with some of our other friends. He spent some time at rehab. Then back to Paul’s. Then out of contact for a while until he ended up in hospital and needed somewhere to stay when he came out. Then out of our lives for several years. Then back in when he got into trouble with the law. Then out. And so on … And so most recently we heard from Max a week ago when he had ended up in hospital and needed a place to stay again … Having Max live with us has been challenging to say the least. Being his friend can be hard work. And so when we received this call about Max, I was instantly resistant. We have been burned and taken advantage of so many times. And much to my shame, my instant reaction was to think about how inconvenient it would be. My life is so comfortable and manageable right now.
As I reflected on what my response should be to Max and his request, I was reminded of a book called The Weight of Glory that I read a few years ago. In it, the author writes:
All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other, to one of two destinations – to be immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal … it is immortals with whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.
The author has the right perspective – one that reflects reality. An eternal perspective that acknowledges that what we see is not all that is.
I’m convinced that all of our interactions with one another would change if we live into the reality that each and every person was created for eternity. Not only does Jesus Christ reign in glory, but we were created to be with him now and for all eternity. All of our most ordinary interactions matter because that other world where Jesus is King is here now.
And if Jesus is my King then I am to follow him in living a sacrificial life of love – especially on behalf of the vulnerable and marginalised. Just like the disciples, I must follow him down from that mountainside and through the valley of suffering – because what I see now, is not all that is.
In a world where Jesus is King, it means that Max was created to live in relationship with him, and that what I claim to be my inheritance is intended for him too. Max was designed for eternity – to worship our creator.
And if Jesus is my King, I have to believe against all odds that transformation is possible; that the Holy Spirit can do his transformative healing in Max’s life, so that we might approach the throne of God together.
In light of this, our approach to Max has been to say that we are here to support him. His current medical needs probably mean that we cannot offer enough supervision in our home. But we will journey with him – if that is what he wants – to find somewhere safe where he can heal. At least physically, but hopefully much more than that.
Jesus is my King and so the way that I respond to others must reflect his Kingship. One that constantly dies to self, picks up my cross and follows him down from that mountain. One of servanthood, generosity and kindness. That is his way. Whatever being his disciple may bring my hope rests in the knowledge that now and forever He is King.
If you follow Jesus Christ, then like Lucy you have stumbled through the back of the wardrobe door into Narnia. Like the disciples you have witnessed the Transfiguration. We are back inside the wardrobe now. We have come down from the mountain. And we know that what we see is not all that is. The Kingdom of God is here, always and forever calling us to live in the knowledge that Jesus is King. May our lives reflect this reality. Amen.