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Seeing each other in a new light

Rev. Rob Lamerton
3rd February 2008

After our time at Tathra, I was pleased that someone commented to me that I looked relaxed. So I have mentioned in the pew sheet about being aglow with the effects of the sun, sand and surf, though I am sure that they were not the reason for the change in Jesus' appearance!

Time out from the routine of our work, some rest and a change of scene, have the effect of relieving stress. We exude a different energy. Not only do we look a little brighter, but we can also see things in a new light. We see and perceive things differently.
I think that this was what was happening in today's gospel story. Peter, James and John go with Jesus for some time out and a change of scene. (For some rest as well? I'm not sure about that.) They begin to see Jesus "in a new light".

Remember that Epiphany is about the making known of God's presence in the human Jesus. Here we have that situation in real power. Peter, James and John see Jesus transfigured — changed in appearance. His face shone like the Sun, his clothes became dazzling white.

(I wrote some years ago that the event took place on a mountain some 9,000 feet high in an area prone to snow cover. I pondered the sun reflecting on the snow, to give an outward appearance leading to an inner realisation, from the disciples' knowledge of Jesus, as to who he really was. Maybe!)

Somehow, Jesus was seen "in a new light". Whiteness, brightness and shiningness were the qualities of the ancient Son of Man — the agent of God from the prophet Daniel — and the messenger of God from the prophet Malachi. So now, Peter, James and John are aware that the human Jesus is truly the agent of God. He is seen as such in the company of Moses and Elijah.

Moses as the giver of the law (seen in our first reading today) and Elijah as the greatest of the prophets represent the whole of God's purposes for the people of Israel.

Jesus is reported as saying in his sermon on the mount that he had not come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfil them. So often in Matthew's gospel is Jesus the fulfiller of his people's past. The transfigured Jesus is the agent of God, the Son of Man!

Peter, overcome with awe at the experience, makes a very human response. "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you will, I will make three dwellings, for you, for Moses, and for Elijah!" I wonder if he then thought to himself, "Doh! You idiot!" At the most amazing, the most powerful and the most stunning moments, don't we say the stupidest things? I wonder whether the other two looked at Peter and said, "Oh, shut up!" Well, they may have.

So often, when we are lost for appropriate words, the best policy is to remain lost for words. Don't say a thing. Let the event overwhelm and overtake us!

It seems that just may have happened for, just as the cloud of the glory of God covered Moses on the mountain, so Peter, James and John are enveloped in cloud. The glory of God covers them!

As at Jesus' baptism, the voice tells them, "This is my son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him." Our minds are cast back to Jesus' baptism, where those words were also heard. What was revealed at Jesus' baptism, on the first Sunday after the Epiphany, is now revisited at the last Sunday of the Epiphany, but with the added words, "Listen to him."

"Listen to him!" Not only do the three see Jesus in a new light, they are now challenged to listen to him. Wonderful experiences, whether they be an encounter with God or otherwise, require us to listen.

In the conclusion of the amazing experience of Peter, James and John "they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear." Yes, some profound experiences knock of us off our feet, bewildered with fear! Such is the response to the greatness of God.

"But Jesus came and touched them." "Get up and don't be afraid." In him, not only is the profound power of God seen, but also the gentle healing, restoring, touch of God.

"And where they looked up, they sought no one except Jesus himself, alone." They were ordered to tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man had been raised from the dead — and we are given a clue about the events to come.

As we come to the end of Epiphany and begin our journey through Lent, we are challenged to see Jesus in a new light, to ponder again the presence of God in the person of Jesus, and to "listen to him". I encourage you to come to the Ash Wednesday services and to have some pattern of reading and reflection through Lent — to use a daily prayer or join a Lenten study.

At this time, we should also give thanks for Bishop George Browning and Margaret, who were farewelled yesterday. George has been a Big Picture Person. He got us to see things in a new light and challenged us. He renewed church finances, and got us to think about social and peace issues, about environmental and ecumenical issues.

As I see things in a new light, I must dismantle some of the things that take over my time.

This reading today also challenges us to begin to see each other in a new light.

As I began this address, I talked about holiday experiences as transforming, transfiguring. We have no doubt heard of people who unexpectedly "shone" in a group or school or in taking on a particular task — those who "glowed" when given an opportunity or trust. As well there are those who are like lights or beacons of hope for peace in difficult times.

May we look to see each other "in a new light" — to look for the brightness of God's presence in the humanity of those around us.