SEEING & TOUCHING JESUS
Sermon preached by Fr Tony Noble on Sunday March 6th, 2011
Matthew 17:5 “He was still speaking when, lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said: ‘This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”
The transfiguration of our Lord is one of my favorite stories. It’s not just a story, of course, but a significant event.
I didn’t always think this way. When I was a young teenager, I actually found it hard to believe. This sort of story in the Bible was too difficult for an inquiring mind to accept, and the idea of Jesus being transfigured on the mountain seemed like a fairy story.
The thing that got me was that it said his garments became dazzling white, like light. That seemed too far fetched for me, and I thought of it as poetic license by the writer, to add more fantastic imagery to the story.
And the fact that it happened on a high mountain reminded me too much of the Ascension, which I also found difficult to believe.
I was, of course, a product of the age of space exploration, and of a Russian cosmonaut going up in the sky and saying he couldn’t find God there. And, the cynicism of science in the “60s which seemed to debunk anything to do with faith.
The fact that Jesus was described as wearing a white dazzling robe reminded of the movies that were popular at the time about Jesus – which usually had famous playing Jesus in a white robe.
As my inquiring mind grew and developed, there came a point where I had to ask, if this event wasn’t true, why was it recorded in all of the four Gospels, as well as the epistle of Saint Peter? Even the birth of Jesus of Bethlehem is not featured in all four Gospels.
The answer to the question ‘Why?” is
Firstly, because it’s true
Secondly, because it’s significant
Thirdly, because it has meaning and purpose.
The fact that the story is true is revealed by the opening line that we find in Matthew’s account – the phrase “After six days”. What happened six days before the transfiguration? Well, it was when St. Peter made his declaration of faith. The occasion when Jesus asked the Apostles, “Who do you say that I am?”. And Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Six days later Jesus takes Peter, along with James and John, that trusted trio, up Mt Tabor. There Peter saw the truth of what he had declared 6 days before. Jesus appears in glory!
Not only that, Jesus is talking with Moses and Elijah, those saints of old. This is a picture of that essential part of that faith which we call the Communion of Saints.
Peter starts babbling on, enthusiastically, as he often does. But God interrupts! St. Matthew says ‘He was still speaking when, lo….”. God speaks, interrupting Peter:
“This is my beloved Son.”
Surely, there was no question in Peter’s mind now about what he had declared just a week before. Yet we know that he would deny even knowing Jesus in Holy Week.
That is why the Transfiguration is significant. Peter, James and John were given a glimpse of who Jesus really is, in all his glory – with those two Holy men of old. And the Father’s voice.
They were given this vision so that later, when Jesus would be rejected, humiliated, sentenced to death, and undergo his Passion, they would remember this glimpse of glory. By remembering the Transfiguration they would realize that there was glory to come.
This leads us to the meaning and the purpose of the Transfiguration. It was the memory of the Transfiguration that was to be in the minds of Peter, James and John when the tough times came. And not just in Holy Week, but later – when they were preachers of the gospel, and subject to martyrdom and persecution.
So its purpose and meaning is for all of us. When we find the going tough, when sickness brings us down, or our plans come undone, or our best intentions put to naught, when we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel – that is when we are to hold on to the memory of Jesus.
It may be that special moment when we receive holy communion and it is an inspiring glimpse of glory? Or perhaps the joy of being here at Mass, or an uplifting moment in our private prayers and reflections, or the sense of calm and joy that comes when we see nature’s beauty, or through our fellowship here in the family of All Saints’?
The glimpses of Jesus are the things we can hold on to when the tough times come. We are to hold on to those memories of Jesus, just as Peter, James and John had to hold on to the memory of the Transfiguration in Holy Week.
It’s not easy, of course. It’s much easier to doubt, to give in – for we are earthen vessels – stumbling along, doing the best we can.
Here is another purpose to the Transfiguration.
Even when we think we are making a mess of life – God is transfiguring all that we do. And he is not just transfiguring what we do – He transforms us in the process.
But the fact is, most of you don’t stumble along like earthen vessels. You are actually quite good at being Christians. I can say that after 7.5 years as your Rector!
Thirdly, the Transfiguration is about seeing Jesus. Peter, James and John saw the real Jesus that day.
We see Jesus here. And our response – like Peter, James and John – to seeing Jesus, reminds me of one of the wonderful miracles that Jesus did: the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida. This healing miracle is only found in Mark 8:22-26, and is like none of the other miracles of Jesus. Significantly, it happened just before Peter’s declaration of faith.
The Transfiguration, Peter’s declaration of faith, and the healing of the blind man are all connected. The healing is, in fact, one of the most human stories we find in the New Testament.
Jesus took the blind man out of the city so they could be alone. Took him by the hand, St. Mark says. Can you imagine – Jesus takes him by the hand! And then he does that extraordinary thing – he puts his own spit on the blind man’s eyes, and lays his hands on him.
“Do you see anything?”, asked Jesus. The man replied that he could see people walking around, but they looked like trees. This is profound. This blind starts to see again, and instead of seeing clearly, he sees shapes – people walking around, but like trees. It’s so real. Then Jesus lays His hands on the man again. And St. Mark says that the man saw everything clearly.
The touch of Jesus!
We have seen Jesus. We have been touched by Jesus. In fact, we’ve been led by the hand of Jesus. But we need to continue to reach out for His hand, to continue to feel His touch.
The final point of the Transfiguration is the very first point. The Transfiguration reveals to us that Jesus is the only Son of God. This is the heart of the Catholic faith. And, therefore, it is at the heart of this Anglocatholic parish of All Saints’.
If you ever wonder what particular thing you want to remember from all my preaching and teaching – it is this stupendous, glorious, but unbelievable fact, that “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us”.
My dear friends, my brothers and sisters – All Saints’ will always hold fast to the Catholic faith, and will always be an Anglo-Catholic parish, as long as your worship reflects that the word was made flesh and dwells among us – even now, in this wonderful sacrament.
And He dwelt among us through Mary, whom we honor with joy.
Being Anglocatholic is not about having the right opinions, or dressing up in vestments, not even (dare I say) using Rite One!
Being Anglocatholic is about the Catholic faith, and about Catholic worship.
In fact, Anglocatholic only describes the ‘flavor’ of being Catholic: it is the Episcopal version. It’s a bit like shopping at Ralph’s instead of Henry’s!
All Saints’ vocation is to be a Catholic parish – nothing more, nothing less.
The sign of a Catholic parish is not just traditional worship – as wonderful as we do it here. Nor is it a beautiful church, nor a sense of devotion to our Lord, nor even Biblical preaching – though being Anglocatholic does mean all those things.
No – the sign of a Catholic parish is to be a furnace of love!
And I know that you will keep on making All Saints’ the wonderful place of love that it is!
So, let me conclude my ministry with the words of Saint Paul, as we find in Ephesians 3:14-19:
“For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”