A few weeks ago, my wife and I went to see the movie Bohemian Rapsody, which tells the story of the rock band Queen, and in particular, the lead singer Freddy Mercury. Now, for anyone seeing that movie, myself included, who had been a teenager in the West in the 1980s would know how the story was going to end.
And I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience, whether a historical movie or a biography or where you are watching a movie after having read the book. So you know how the story is going to end. But even though I pretty much knew how the movie was going to end, I still enjoyed it very much. And I think why the movie was so engaging was because you focus on the way the characters grow and interact with each other, and in particular how they are changed by fame. How they are transformed by their success.
When we focus on the transformation of people, and relationships, we see life as a richer and deeper tapestry. We experience the human
If you look at the church year, our major celebrations are at Christmas and Easter. The bookmarks of the life of Christ, the beginning and the end of his earthly ministry. And of course these are important events, and they sit at the very heart of our faith, but I think if we focus too exclusively on the birth, death and resurrection of Christ we miss out on the fullness of the life of Christ. Of understanding, and experiencing, the transformation that Jesus brings to those around him, and even the transformation to Christ himself.
And of all the transformations we witness in the gospels, today’s is perhaps the most dramatic. For the mystery of God that we read of in Luke today is of Christ, both man and God transcend both space and time to walk with Moses and Elijah. It is a demonstration of God’s power and Christ’s divinity that is perhaps greater even than the resurrection.
And the witnesses to this, Peter, James and John seem a little confused. Which is understandable. But it is interesting to see how they respond. They offer to build tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. What the apostles are doing here is not offering to build a tent as a form of shelter, but rather, this is a reference to the tradition of Sukkot.
During the festival of Sukkot, Jews remember their deliverance from Egpyt and traditionally spend 7 or 8 days eating all meals and often sleeping in outdoor shelters. This tradition was well over 1,000 years old by the time of Jesus. In fact the tradition was established by Moses. So the disciples are falling back on the familiar rituals of their faith.
Now rituals, and cultural traditions can bring peace, and comfort and a sense of belonging, but they can also sometimes, especially if we participate without being mindful of what we are doing and why, prevent us from truly experiencing the fullness of life in Christ.
And here we read of Peter, James and John witnessing the full divinity of Christ in the transfiguration, of experiencing God in a new and dramatic
way, and their response is fall back on doing things the way they have always been done, of responding to God in the most familiar of ways.
Last Sunday Peter asked us to think about hospitality in a new and very challenging way. And during the week I was thinking about how Peter’s challenge to us to rethink hospitality related to the transformation of Christ in today’s reading that three of the disciples experienced.
And as I was thinking about this, my phone pinged. So nothing like a distraction when you are trying consider how we are challenged to change our own lives.
The ping turned out to be my CNN app telling me there was breaking news that I might be interested in. It was news from my home country, Australia, that Cardinal Pell, the leader of the Catholic Church had been found guilty of horrible crimes against young boys. The leader of the
church that more than half of Australian Christians belong to and the man who is for many people in Australia, the face of Christianity.
How do we respond to that? Do we just say, that’s why I’m a Protestant and try to ignore it? Do we turn inwards and fall back on what is familiar? Or do we reach out and weep with those who weep?
Because it is very easy to fall into despair, or inaction, because we can feel very small in the face of tremendous evil, or even when we are challenged to really rethink how we live our own lives.
But there is to me a way to live and react to these things. In the reading in Corinthians today we see that the transfiguration is not just an historical event in the life of Christ, not just a page filler to get us from Christmas to Easter. But rather, the transfiguration is God transforming all our lives. 2 Corinthians 18 says, “and we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another”.
Now contemplate that in the context of the transfiguration.
When we really reflect on what hospitality would mean if we truly lived according to the call of Chirst it actually seems impossible. But what if we are really being transformed bit by bit into the very likeness of God? What then, is possible?
Because the challenge of hospitality that Peter gave last week is just one small element of the lives we are called to lead. And just that one small element when you really think about what it means is overwhelming. Let alone what it would take if we were to really love our neighbours as we love ourselves.
And what more when we must face up to powerful individuals and institutions that prey on the weak and that perpetrate life destroying acts of cruelty against the defenceless. Especially when it happens in churches. It is both painful and enfeebling to contemplate.
In the face of this, how can we be the salt and light of the world? But that to me is the message of the transfiguration and the letter to the Corinthians. That God’s power to transform is beyond all expectation.
And that we can be likewise transformed if only we allow ourselves to be.
We can only face these challenges; we can only live the life we are called to live; we can only confront evil, when we meet the divine Christ and respond. Respond, not by doing what we have always done, not by finding the familiar to hold on to.
But instead, when we meet the divine Christ we respond by allowing a miraculous transformation of our lives, our churches and our world.