Sermon 14th February 2010

Posted on: Sunday 14th February 2010

Sermon for the Sunday next before Lent, 14th February 2010

Fr Nick Mercer

Glory, Postmodernity & Transfiguration

“Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory” Luke 9.32

It was a residential Board of Trustees meeting in midsummer, and my first mistake was to suggest that we held the after lunch session out on the lawn.

My second mistake was deciding not just to sit on the grass, but to lie down on the grass. And the third was when I thought ‘I’ll just close my eyes, but I’ll still be able to concentrate’.

I might just have got away with this had I not: one – been Chairman of the Board; and two – started snoring.

We’ve all had those situations where we are desperately struggling to stay awake – I’ve been with some of you at Glyndebourne after the dinner interval!

We would not have had this account of the Transfiguration of our Lord in the Gospels, if the disciples had succumbed to sleep.

And as they reflected on it after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, they realised what they had seen

· They saw Moses the lawgiver and Christ as the fulfilment of the Law.

· They saw Elijah the chief of prophets and Christ as the One to whom all the prophets pointed.

· They heard the voice of Almighty God, reiterating Christ’s Baptismal affirmation that this was his beloved Son and that they should listen to him.

· And they saw the Shekinah cloud, a theophany of the God of glory, and the reflection of that glory in the face of their teacher, Jesus the Messiah.

There’s a little Jewish joke here as well – a sort of pun. Blink and you miss it.

The Hebrew word for ‘glory’, ‘kabod’, was the word for weight, heaviness, gravitas. Here the disciples are weighed down with sleep, Luke tells us, but they remained awake and so were weighed down with glory.

One of my fellow students at theological college was good at everything. And he knew it. So nobody liked him very much. So there was much Schadenfreude when he was rusticated for a term for driving a mini car through the front doors of the college.

He was good at Hebrew of course as well, so someone pinned a large notice above his door with the single word in Hebrew: Ichabod – the glory has departed.

It was the name given to Eli’s grandson Ichabod, who was born just after a particularly crushing defeat by the Philistines who also stole the Ark of the Covenant which represented the glory of God – atheme running through all the readings and prayers today.

[In fact it’s a rather tragic story that the Jewish writer turns into another little joke at the end.

“And it came to pass, when the messenger made mention of the ark of God, that Eli fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck brake, and he died: for he was an old man, and heavy.” (I Sam 4)

So the grandson, born at the same time is called Ichabod, the glory has departed – the Ark of the Covenant has been carried off. But it could mean, the heavy one has departed – the fat man has died!]

Ichabod might be a suitable epitaph for the last 25 years: postmodernity as we are coming to call this period of history.

There’s much spiritual interest but little spiritual depth or weight. Believe but don’t belong. (70% of people claim to be Church of England – they believe, but they don’t belong to our congregations in any meaningful sense.)

Postmodernity describes, not so much a movement, as a mood in contemporary society. It is image with attitude; inner emptiness covered up by all the good things money can buy. Tesco ergo sum – I shop, therefore I am. Retail therapy doesn’t give meaning, but it makes me feel better!

The loneliness and ennui is eased by friendships and music, sex, alcohol and other drugs; and lots of idle humour.Veni, vidi, velcro – I came, I saw, I stuck around. Try and think of an advert that doesn’t use humour.

And one of the characteristics of postmodernity, is that it denies transcendence. So there is little focus to all that spirituality around, and indeed often a denial that there is any objective ‘other’ – the transcendent God of Glory. Spirituality is seen as something purely internal, subjective and personal.

Because of this absent substantiator in postmodern society; an absence of the One who gives weight to human existence, there is a lack of solidness in society, of glory, of weight.

We are in danger of becoming all surface and image.

Let’s go back to our Gospel – the transfiguration of Jesus.

As Jesus goes down the mountain with the disciples, he speaks to them of his impending suffering and of his resurrection. And he has already told them, although they do not understand, that his Passion will be the greatest display of God’s glory. That’s why we read this Gospel passage always on the last Sunday before Lent.

We celebrate this Mass to the Glory of God. As we bring the gifts of the world at the offertory – our bread and wine and money – so we celebrate God’s glory in all he has given to us.

And as we lift up our Lord’s broken body, so we celebrate his victory over death and the glorious hope he has given us.

It is hard to celebrate the glory of God when we are suffering, in body mind or spirit; or watching those whom we love suffer. Yet as we look at the suffering of God in Christ, and remember that we will share in his resurrection glory, then even suffering and death become part of the path to glory.

The Westminster Catechism reminds us that “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever.”

Secular drowsiness, the stupor and busyness of 21st century life, must not rob us of seeing God’s glory and delighting in his creation. Part of the reason for the disciplines of Lent is to keep ourselves spiritually awake and alert.

And here at the mass, as Christ is present in another Transfiguration, not with Moses and Elijah, but with bread and wine; here is weight and depth in an increasingly light and shallow culture. Let us be awake to the presence of the Glory of God.

“Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory” Luke 9.32