The Real World

Sunday 7th February 2016
Year C, The Sunday next before Lent
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint
Informal Eucharist
Luke 9.28-36

Anybody who has read Greek myths, fairy stories or been to a pantomime will be familiar with the idea of metamorphosis, of one thing being transformed into another: a human into a stream, a prince into a frog and back again, a pumpkin into a coach. All these stories are part of the cultural background of our lives which is why I'm rather puzzled by the way in which people talk about morphing - the word we get from the Greek Metamorphosis - when it's as old as stories; the only difference is that we are enlivening these stories with digital packages which allow us to alter, and even falsify, reality. The idea which underlies all of the stories about transformation - and the digital manoeuvrings which change what we see - is that nothing is permanent, that reality is dynamic rather than static. All around us we see change in nature, spectacularly represented by the transformation of the caterpillar into the butterfly; we are familiar now with the idea that we remain ourselves from birth to death but that every single cell in our body will be replaced over and over again in our lifetime. So what makes us what we are? Certainly not our physical composition, nor the stories told about us, nor the pictures of us which can be so easily manipulated. Our reality, as living creatures, is dynamic, not static. What we are, fundamentally, is our spiritual selves, what many cultures call our "souls".

Which is why the Transfiguration of Jesus at the top of a high mountain, traditionally Mount Horeb - which was associated in the Jewish mind particularly with Moses - in the presence of Moses, Elijah and his 'inner cabinet' shouldn't come as such a surprise to us. Jesus had what we might call a reversible butterfly moment, changing from human flesh into a divine being before changing back, a kind of preparation for what he might look like after the Resurrection.

At one level we can respond to this by saying: "Well, if God can create the universe and, in the form of Jesus, rise from the dead, a bit of divine theatre isn't going to be any problem", an idea which works perfectly well at an intellectual level - if this, then that - but our response to Jesus has to be much wider and deeper than the purely intellectual, although it is a necessary component of our relationship with God because it was given to us precisely for that purpose. But our reaction should lead us much more to worship than to logic; but worship does not mean desiccated ritual, it really means heartfelt submission, not a popular word in our culture of egalitarianism and choice.

But we're not equal to God and we don't have a choice of gods, so we really ought to get ourselves adjusted; and there is no better time than Lent.

Saint Luke places the Transfiguration of Jesus just before the extended journey to Jerusalem which results in the suffering, death and Resurrection of Jesus, so it is a kind of encouraging foretaste of things to come, as if to say: "The next part of my story is going to be very difficult but it will all end happily ever after" which, of course, it does, but there is a profound spiritual sense, reflecting our human experience, in which we never grasp the good unless we've experienced the bad and we never deal with the bad unless we hope for the good. That is the position in which we find ourselves today on the verge of Lent.

So here is my thumb nail guide to Lent:

To sum up: I always think that if I'm feeling better on Good Friday than I did on Ash Wednesday I haven't pushed myself hard enough: being with Jesus along the road to Jerusalem is difficult enough but knowing what happened at the end, and our part in it should not be easy.

Finally, returning to Jesus at the top of the mountain, we have no record of this but I hope that on the really dark day after the death of Jesus, that Peter, James and John brought hope through telling the Transfiguration story but I fear that they did no such thing. On Christmas Day we marvelled to see an unseasonal butterfly in our house, like the glory of Summer in the middle of Winter. It might help us if we think of the Transfiguration in that way, a diamond in the dross or, to use one of my favourite phrases, a good deed in a naughty world.

Quite often when we return after a holiday people say: "Welcome back to the real world!" But for Christians, the glory of God in the Transfiguration is the real world.