Scripture for the last Sunday after Epiphany:
Exodus 24.12-18; Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1.16-21; Matthew 17.1-9 (Transfiguration)
There are some very basic human skills that we never seem quite to develop as fully as we might wish. Two of these would be listening and waiting.
At the transfiguration of Jesus, his disciples are told, “Listen to him.” It seems to be a fairly simple instruction. Perhaps they were too busy thinking about what to say to focus on listening. We all do it, to a greater or lesser degree. Peter’s response (“Let’s build some little houses!”) is symptomatic of a blurted response. He receives that rather blunt instruction: “Listen to him!”
How much effort do we actually put into listening to what Jesus had – and still has – to say to us? Are we with Peter, bumbling into suggestions to build little shelters?
Several centuries before Jesus went up the mountain into the light, Moses went up a different mountain, leaving the people of Israel with a simple instruction: “Wait here.” Sadly, idle hands make the devil’s work and the people descended rather rapidly into idolatry.
How good are we at waiting? How patient are we at “being here?” Do we end up filling our time by making idols of whatever current distraction occupies us? “The hardest thing in the world is to be where you are,” wrote Rowan Williams in Christ on Trial.
There is, nevertheless, an obligation not only to be present in God’s mysterious power, to rest in the comfort of God’s love, but also to play a part in the continuing process of transfiguration that began with Jesus on the mountain. And what was transfigured, or transformed, on the mountain, was not Jesus, but the disciples’ perception and understanding of him – something that even then was not complete, and for them reached a climax with the cross.
Dr Clare Amos, at our Archdeaconry Synod, suggested that transfiguration continues, and in fact will not – cannot – be complete until the whole creation has been transfigured.
Christ came to a real, physical world not just to save souls, but to save bodies and to be present in the whole of creation, of which, John’s gospel tells us, he was part of the constructive, creative force. “In the beginning was the Word.” In that regard, incarnation sanctifies not just humanity, but the environment in which human existence sits.
And this means (for us) taking very good care of it. This was stated by Clare Amos in the context of the Synod theme of “Care for Creation,” something that falls to human responsibility regardless of anyone’s views about the climate and human impact upon it.
Why would we not want to preserve the beauty of creation? Why would we not want to leave a legacy for future generations? That is, unless we have made an idol of our own self-satisfaction, joining ourselves with the people whom Moses left at the foot of the mountain.
Better by far to remember the instructions: “Wait here,” and “Listen to him,” and to develop the patience and listening skill to try to hear and follow the Word made flesh. And be willing to wait for what there is to hear.