Sometimes we’re privileged to see God’s Peace in other people. I can remember a lady in Wonford Hospital who was very poorly, and yet who was content to die. She had no fear, and she told me as well as the doctors who were attending her, that she was ready to meet God. And I sensed her peace.
I saw this serenity again, in the patience and tranquillity of an elderly gentleman who’d been hospitalised for several months after falling down stairs. He was 97 years old and there was hardly a part of his body that he could move by himself. If anyone had a right to feel sorry, angry, or at the end of their tether, he did. But you could almost feel the presence of God within him.
And so, I can begin to understand just a little bit about the sense of being in the presence of the Son of God which was the great experience of Peter John and James, described in the Gospel reading which we heard just now. The experience which we call the Transfiguration.
We’ve no way of knowing just what was going on before the event took place. Was Jesus praying with his disciples perhaps ? Or was he praying alone?
Maybe he was talking with them about the significance of Moses or Elijah. We just don’t know. But I expect that like me, you’ve sometimes glimpsed something of the peace and beauty of God in other people. And sometimes we meet people who are so close to God, so full of his Holy Spirit, that they seem to glow.
Do you remember the way in which St Paul wrote about the way in which the face of Moses used to shine after he’d been with God? There must surely have been something of this nature about the appearance of Jesus at that time of the Transfiguration.
We’ve no way of being up that particular mountain with Peter John and James, but the presence of Jesus is all around us. It’s this presence which brings peace in the uncertainties and difficulties which face us all. It’s this presence which brings the peace which can transfigure a world which sometimes seems to be collapsing under our feet.
Peter, James and John had their eyes opened on that mountain top. Do you remember the account in St Mark’s gospel where a blind man had his sight restored in stages? Well, Jesus had tried to explain to Peter that God would be revealed through a Messiah who suffered, died and failed; but Peter just couldn’t get a handle on that. But like the blind man , his eyes were opened further at the Transfiguration. The ordinariness of Jesus was pierced for a while and these three saw him as he really was.
But they still had much more to learn, and their eyes were only fully opened after his death. They continued to follow him, but at the end they all gave up and ran away. They ran away because they could see that Jesus was indeed an outstanding failure, and they hadn’t yet reached the understanding that it was through this failure that Jesus was to show the meaning of God.
Jesus shows us God, by showing us what it means to be human. And really being human means being in the muddle and mess that Jesus was in. This is where God is. Peter wanted to grasp the divinity without the failure, but the flash of the divine, the glimpse of meaning, only comes out of the failure. Out of the Cross. There’s no place to find God except in man, and no way to find man except in Jesus Christ.
The Cross helps us to recognise Jesus when we meet him in the random encounters we have with those who suddenly need us .There’s no straight and settled road towards God. The coming of the Son of Man is like a lightning bolt, and you never know when the revelation is to be offered to you.
Perhaps at the most unlikely moment , just when you’re at your most irritable with that boring, grasping person who needs you. The gospel makes us ready for the sudden transfiguration of such moments; ready to see God, to see Christ in the mess of being human.
The temptation , of course, is to stay up the mountain where we might have experienced God’s peace. But the time always comes in this life when we have to come down and live on the plain.
The peace , or the sense of it, may fade. It might even fade to the extent that you begin to doubt that you’ve ever experienced it. That’s why it’s good to speak of it, or perhaps discuss it with a friend.
We need to remind ourselves when we’re walking in the dark places of the valley, that we’ve been up on the mountain top, but until the Lord has prepared us more deeply , it would be more than we could stand to live there permanently.
But if we listen to him he will take us back again and again in ways that will help us to recognise his transfigured presence amongst us today. The word that comes to us, leading us on to follow Jesus, is the same word that came from the cloud on that strange day in Galilee. A word which rings out through the shining image of Christ the Son of God.
A word for us, not just for Peter, James and John. God continues to say: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased”.
Listen to him! Amen.