Last Sunday before Lent 2011: The Transfiguration

(Matthew 17. 1-9)

We see mountains as dangerous places. Whether it's Sly Stallone in Cliffhanger or James Franco in 127 Hours, movies depict mountains as extreme terrains where a moments carelessness can risk or even end lives. Even in less dramatic fashion, events such as Comic Relief's celebrity climb of Mount Kilimanjaro two years ago leave us with a sense that mountains are as hostile as they are beautiful, pushing human beings to a physical extreme. Talking of the Comic Relief climb, the Radio One DJ Chris Moyles said "we spent the week in hell."

How different are mountains in the Bible. The physical ascent up a mountain mirrors a spiritual ascent to God. Whether it's Moses going up to receive the Ten Commandments or Jesus going up with Peter, James, and John, mountains are meeting places for God. Mountains are still risky places, don't get me wrong: Moses must cover his face in case he sees the face of God and dies; and Jesus' ascent is flanked by two predictions of his impending death in Jerusalem. Yet, mountains are more fundamentally about the fullness of life, how to live rightly, how to be transfigured into glory through God's grace.

The Transfiguration of Jesus is absolutely about the fullness of life. Jesus ascends the mountain and "he was transfigured....His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light." Jesus is not transformed into something new and unrecognisable. No, Jesus is transfigured: he is the same, but different; he is recognisable, but changed; God reveals the fullness of life, the joining of heaven and earth, of divinity and flesh, and it is glorious, the bursting forth of light. This transfiguration, this glory, does not belong to Jesus alone but is also ours as his followers. "This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased," says God. We are adopted as children of God by the Holy Spirit, we are co-heirs with Christ, so that the same is true for us.

Celebrating the Transfiguration is apt as we prepare to walk through Lent to see the glory of Jesus in the Resurrection, the crucified and Risen Lord who is the same but different. It is apt to celebrate the Transfiguration before Lent because it shows us what Lent is to be about. I think the images and sentiments we often associate with Lent aren't so different to our initial view of mountains. Lent seems hostile. The images and practices we associate with Lent -- the desert, fasting, penance, giving things up, ashes, the Way of the Cross -- these images seem dry, unpleasant, morbid, and perhaps even deadening. Yet, if we view Lent through the lens of the Transfiguration, how very different we might approach Lent as the way to the fullness of life.

Getting up a mountain may be "hell" as Chris Moyles puts it, but the journey could be about unleashing life. Self-examination, fasting, penance, all the things of Lent show us our dependence on God for life, for healing, for wholeness, and for transfiguration so that, like Jesus, we are the same but different, so that God's light shines through us. The way of transfiguration for Jesus includes the Way of the Cross, but ends in the glorious life of resurrection. Our journey in Lent may involve discomfort, but it helps lead us to the same new birth of God's life in us. Lent is the way to the fullness of life in Christ's resurrection.

So let's seize Lent together. Let's walk Lent together. Let us seize the fullness of life together. Let us pass through the Cross together. And let us be refined by the journey so that the light of Jesus will shine in us and our homes. Let Lent transfigure us. Amen.