Gracious God, may our meeting with you always transform our lives, Amen
It was with sadness, but no great surprise, that Russian invaded Ukraine in the last few days. We have heard so much talk in the last few weeks and it has ended in war. If we look back over the last 125 years Europe has been a place where two World Wars have erupted, as well as other great upheavals and conflicts. In fact the region has seen few years free from some conflict in all that time. We have two things to consider today …
First, when we have been through much with the pandemic, extreme weather and protests, we should not be without hope. There is much to celebrate in our lives, the love and support of our family, our friends and our church community. And perhaps as important is our need to pray for our world and especially the situation in the Ukraine at this time. For the innocent victims of this conflict who have died, and will die, for those whose lives have been, and will be, turned upside down. But also for the leaders of the nations, particular those directly involved as well as those with influence, that this conflict may cease and relative peace return to this part of the world.
In the gospel passage we just heard, Jesus goes with three of his disciples Peter, James and John to pray on top of a mountain. This was traditionally understood to be a place where people encountered God. So throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (or the Old Testament) and the New Testament, people of God like Moses and Elijah climbed a mountain to encounter God.
So in the first reading we hear of Moses meeting God on Mount Sinai. We know he went to pray, and we are told that his face shone, which is how the act of being in God’s presence is described. In the gospel account we read that the face of Jesus also shone, and specifically that Jesus had gone to the mountain to pray. Luke of all the gospel writers speaks often of Jesus going to pray. Luke, (says the commentator Shauf), suggests Jesus’ encounters with God come when he is praying. Also in Luke, prayer (or communion with God), is linked to the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Once again there is nothing extraordinary about this, as when we pray we seek communion with God, and often in prayer we seek the Holy Spirit. So at baptism (as in Jesus’ own baptism), and at the Eucharist. Later these words will be said: ‘Send your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts, that all who eat and drink at this table may be one body and one holy people, a living sacrifice in Jesus Christ, our Lord.’ We ask God to send the Holy Spirit to be upon us and on the gifts of bread and wine. And that as we receive communion, we may as a community be as one, as holy people of God; living sacrifices to the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ.
So the appearance of Jesus with Moses and Elijah may seem extraordinary but are possible to imagine. These three important figures are wrapped in glory which as one commentator suggests ‘strengthens each other’s lives, and gives meaning to past and future events’. In the same way, as we gather as one body, we strengthen and encourage one another and look for meaning to all that has happened to us in the past and looking to what happens to us in the future.
The same commentator suggests that the glory of God is only possible if lived together in community. In other words it doesn’t matter who we are, we won’t amount to much, and we certainly won’t transform anything, unless we are in community and in our context, Christian community.
That is the transformation we all need in our lives, as we follow the way of Christ. By hearing his message we learn day by day, and remember it takes a life-time, to live not for ourselves, but for others; caring for each other, caring for those outside this community. It means supporting one another in good times and not so good times, in times of sorrow, as well as joy. It means looking out for each other, being there for one another as we all make our progress through the journey of life. This is so because living in community enables us all to put away our selfish, self-centred ways, so that we might live for others as well as for ourselves.
And the secret is: living in community, which at times can be challenging, will bring us joy and purpose, in ways that we cannot receive by living alone or for ourselves. It transforms in ways we cannot imagine, it enables us to have God change us and allow us to think in different and exciting ways.
These last few week has seen upheaval in our own country and now we see death and destruction in Eastern European. We may be tempted to be downcast, sad, weary and without hope. We have also seen beautiful (if cold) weather as perhaps a sign to us of the greater purposes of God which extend well beyond human understanding.
St Paul faced persecution, hardship, shipwreck and imprisonment. And in spite of all this, not least the risks to his very life, he said this in the letter to the Romans:
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5 v1-5)