I’ve been reading a variety of blogs recently, by people who are seeking to follow Christ.
There’s a great range out there… from blogging bishops to self-effacing American moms and everything in between.
It strikes me, it has been striking me for a while, that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to pick up the Bible and be stunned by what I read. I take so many mysteries for granted!
However, the people of the parish help me to remember what it’s like, by our conversations and by their reactions. This Sunday we kept the feast of the Transfiguration. Jesus goes up a mountain to pray, with some of his disciples, Peter, James and John. Whilst he’s praying, he is transfigured, beginning to shine brighter and brighter with the glory of God -and two other people become visible talking with Jesus: -Moses and Elijah… these two prophets, the most famous amongst Hebrew prophets, met with God on a mountaintop, centuries apart in time, and were bathed with his reflected glory -now, in a moment that cuts through time, Jesus the Lord meets with these prophets -and they are bathed in the light of his glory…
… a pretty amazing revelation of Christ’s identity.
So I thought I’d amaze the congregation with something they thought that was ordinary. I announced I was going to step through a postcard. I took out an ordinary postcard (a picture of our church as it happens) and a pair of scissors, and as I talked about the Transfiguration, I cut a hole in the postcard big enough to step through.
I actually got one of the serving team to step through it once it was complete. And there was a round of applause. Very gratifying.
But the point I made was this… it doesn’t take a lot to change a very ordinary situation into one that is suddenly incredibly surprising and strange. And that is what Peter experienced on the mountain-top -his beloved teacher, wise friend, and holy healer… suddenly was revealed as so much more. God was present in glory and power, and as the moment is coming to an end what does Peter say?
‘Let’s put up three tents!’
He wants the moment to last, he wants to hang onto the vision of that glory. What we know, and Peter didn’t then, is that between this moment of Christ’s glory and the next one, there was to be a moment of such darkness and despair that Peter almost gave up everything and went back to fishing! The crucifixion.
Imagine that -imagine experiencing such revelations of God’s power and glory- and then still losing heart and almost giving up – I think we should see that as rather encouraging actually… because, whilst many of us encounter revelations of God that stun and startle us… moments of such glory and clarity that we wish that time would stand still ; then we can also often let them go again and lose heart -so much so that we can wander away from following God, even after a mountaintop experience.
And Peter has been there before us…
We need to acknowledge and remember those amazing times, so that we can get through the grim times – Christ knew both, in fact ALL Christian disciples know both… Dancing and Stumbling…
Though of course, both Dancing and Stumbling can become moments of revelation…
One of my favourite science fiction authors, Douglas Adams (Rest his Soul) described in his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy ‘trilogy’, the theory behind human flight: “There is an art to flying, or rather a knack. Its knack lies in learning to throw yourself at the ground and miss. Clearly, it is this second part, the missing, that provides the difficulties.”
Arthur Dent, the archetypal antihero finds himself unexpectedly able to fly, I think it was the sudden reappearance of a piece of lost luggage that distracts him just as he’s tripping, and makes him fail to hit the ground… It reminds me rather of the burning bush.
Moses exiled from both Egyptians and Hebrews -mooching around with his flocks in the desert… Oh look, a bush on fire. <doubletake> Hello there, what’s that, the bush is on fire… but not actually burning up… odd. I’ll just pop over and take a closer look…
… God provides those unexpected pieces of luggage, those on-fire-but-not-burning bushes, moments when we were just getting on with the daily business of tripping and falling, and suddenly we find we are not falling, or at least, we haven’t quite gone splat as we would normally expect to. Those are also moments to look up and ask -hello, what’s all this about then God?