Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Sunday Next before Lent

Mt Sinai
Mountains have a special place in our religious landscape as they are mentioned over 500 times in the pages of the Bible.
Mountains have a logical religious symbolism for biblical cultures since their peaks are “closer to God” who was believed to dwell in the heavens. As a result, God often reveals himself on the mountaintop.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, the mountains of Sinai and Zion are most significant. Mount Sinai, of course, is associated with Moses and is the place where Moses received the gift of the Law, the Ten Commandments. Thus, Mount Sinai is a symbol of God’s Covenant with Israel. Zion, to the south, is the location of the Jerusalem Temple. In the New Testament (Mark and Luke to be precise), Jesus appoints the Twelve on a mountain. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus delivers the Beatitudes in his Sermon on the Mount, conjuring an image of Moses who received the Commandments on Mount Sinai.

Perhaps the most significant mountain scene in the Gospels, however, is the Transfiguration of Jesus that we have just heard as our gospel this morning - Jesus is accompanied by Moses and Elijah, who themselves encountered God on the mountaintop in the Hebrew Scriptures. Now, they encounter God through Jesus and Jesus, in turn, is seen as the fulfillment of the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah).

Mountains have always had significance for myself. As a teenager, and a  family we lived in the shadow of 9 great copper bearing mountains in the Congo and a decade a go I came to appreciate the beauty of the mountains that make Jamaica so beautiful and produced some of the best coffee in the world. last year I returned to Africa to climb Mt Kilimanjaro to celebrate my 25 years of ordained life and thanks in part to your generosity was able to raise £5.5K for the Bishop of London’s Mission Fund.

So Mountains remind us of God , are places that touch and inspire the human imagination and in the ascent of them test our own character and will power.

We climb the mountain of Transfiguration each year before Lent begins
for the same reason Moses climbed Mount Pisgah, to get a glimpse of the Promised Land. We climb to see where we ourselves are headed and to get some perspective on our journey of faith.

When Jesus arrived at the mountain top his figure changed the outward appearance of the son of Mary, which had been ordinary and like us,
shone as if he was not like one of us.
Jesus shone with the glory like that which caused the face of Moses to shine that day on the mountain of Sinai, when the holy law from heaven was given.   Jesus shone with the glory that carried Elijah up to heaven's height, gone from this world but alive in the next. 
He shone with the glory of his own baptismal day, when his Father's voice from above was heard to say: "This is my Son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased" and indeed those words first uttered at the river are repeated on the Mountain of Transfiguration.

And what is our response to this extraordinary revelation?
What does this mountain top experience teach or inspire within us in our journey of faith today?

Jesus was facing the long journey to another mountain, where he would be lifted higher – the mount of Golgatha outside the walls of Jerusalem
It would of course not be a journey he would undertake alone but with the Disciples close at hand, but unlike on this mountain at the point when Jesus was lifted high on the cross they had already fled in fear and shame.

Scripture tells in many places that to be like Jesus is our destiny; that the intention of God in his calling of us is to make us like him. We are destined for glory, a glory like his, a glory that will make us shine as he shone.

But first, as with Jesus, there is cross to bear.

And therefore each year we climb the mountain of Transfiguration with him. We climb because there is a rough road ahead of us, we climb to draw inspiration for the 40 days ahead in our personal and collective discipleship and discipline as his followers.
We climb to share the vision that Peter and James and John beheld,
and to be strengthened by it for our return to the lowlands
for our return into the nitty gritty of living and for the days before we receive the fullness of the glory that Jesus gives to us through his death and his resurrection that we celebrate at Easter.

Jesus looked ahead to the choices of the Passion and God gave him the
vision and the strength he needed:

We too stand at the threshold of the great season of Lent – that begins on Wednesday – Ash Wednesday.
Before us are decisions – something to give up perhaps, something to take on definitely – daily prayer….. Lent groups…..stations of the cross on Sunday evenings.

As we look forward, be it in our daily challenges or our preparation for Lent,  we see Jesus ahead beckoning us to follow him into the passion and death that is Holy week and Easter. and we draw the strength needed to follow and resolve in order not to fall away or give up over the next five weeks

God wills to give us the vision and the strength we need the vision and the strength to face the fears and choices of our lives. The vision and the strength we need to respond to the call of God to live beyond ourselves, to live lives of sacrifice and courage  till the glory we see in Christ settles on us not just for a day, but forever.

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