Fr Jordan Greatbatch presided and preached at the 10am Mass, his first with us as Vicar. The Gospel reading was the account of the Transfiguration from Matthew 17: 1–9.
Read on for the sermon and a video of the service.
‘Silence’ is a 2016 film directed by Martin Scorsese based on a novel which tells the story of two Jesuit Priests who face the ultimate test of faith when they travel to Japan in search of their missing mentor. Based during the 17th century at a time when Christianity was outlawed in Japan and their presence forbidden. It is a tough film to watch. It depicts torture and death. However, despite its shocking nature it is a powerful film about faith, the meaninglessness we can experience in suffering, and why we often feel God is silent in our darkest moments.
This ‘silence’ of God is something I am sure we have all experienced at least once in our lives. Times where we do not feel like God is there, nor cares.
Often to get through these times we need to draw our memories back to when we did experience God’s presence or love, that it may be a source of strength and inspiration.
Today’s Gospel could be seen as one of those occasions. A so called religious experience, an experience of the transforming power of God.
It is a remarkable story. John, Peter and James accompany Jesus up a mountain to pray, and here he is seemingly transformed right before their eyes.
There is much here. Clear connotations back to the Old Testament, Moses, and his interactions with God on Mount Sinai. The law and the prophets, However, for us this morning I will draw our thoughts to two things. Firstly, the place of religious experience as a human experience shared by many. And secondly that religious experience has the power to transform and empower people to do great things.
The desire for religious experience as depicted in the transfiguration is a universal one.
Everywhere it seems people are looking for an experience of the transcendent. With the current census in mind the increasing trend is for people to put ‘spiritual but not religious.’ Though I did see a street advertisement here in Christchurch the other day which often pops up around census time that read’ "Good without God? Over one million Kiwis are". Dissuading people from putting down their belief in God in the census.
Despite their best efforts however I suspect many still have the desire to experience transfiguration. For us humans have an innate sense of the transcendent, the numinous, the holy, a yearning to connect with something outside of ourselves that can be a cause for awe and wonder.
It could be said though that us Anglicans have often been wary of seeking such religious experiences. Sometimes for good reason. We know that sometimes our experiences can be manipulated, perhaps coerced. That we feel certain faith traditions can overemphasise experience at the expense of reason. Anglicans in particular have always stressed the part reason plays in the Christian life. But sometimes perhaps we allow ourselves to be wholly ruled by the head rather than the heart. We too need to be open to these experiences of God.
And so it is for the many ‘spiritual but not religious’ people who are longing for an experience that transforms them. For in the end, the transfiguration is all about change and how we all struggle with change, and with transformation.
For Transformation is hard. Change is hard. Traversing from one place to another, from one way of being to another. It’s easier to stay the same. Stay the course. Convince yourself that what you’ve always known is satisfactory and sufficient even when you have glimpsed what could be.
And that’s why the Transfiguration is important for us. And why it is important in life and worship that we open ourselves up to experiences of the divine. Our tradition has a rich heritage of using beauty as a medium for divine experience. The robes, candles, artwork, incense, craftsmanship all are there to help us contemplate God, and the beauty of God. But we can often become distracted.
For, like St Peter, sometimes we don’t have the right words or thoughts for our experiences, so we tend to splutter out something rather strange, or even as the disciples did, keep it to ourselves.
However, an important part of drawing people into the life of faith is through the sharing of our own experiences. A healthy community needs to be honest about its experiences, this way conversations can be had and insight received. I often surprise people by telling them that Pentecostals and Anglo-Catholics have a lot in common. Well, at least one thing. We both desire a transfiguring experience in our worship of God. What Carl Jung called individuation. That religious or spiritual experience that is essential to our well-being, identifying individual human life with God and the universe as a whole.
The Transfiguration event is one way of seeing this profound truth. And it is this truth that the disciples encountered in today’s Gospel.
When Jesus eventually left them and they faced the silence that followed, they would have needed to draw upon such experiences for strength and faith.
The transfiguration enabled them to see differently, beyond their circumstances to a new reality.
For Transfiguration means a new way of seeing the world. And replacing the lenses of our lives is a lot more complicated than picking out new fashionable frames.
Because at the heart of the matter is that transfiguration not only signals change but can alters life’s direction. It certainly did for those 3 disciples. And when that happens, well, no tent in the world is going to give you the security you think you want or need. Because when we shore up the shelters that protect us from difficult times and the experiences that often follow, we also run the risk of keeping out that which is so very, very good.
And so, as we continue our journey through Lent, we may be experiencing the silence of God.
The Transfiguration is to encourage the disciples before the Passion, may it encourage us as we move towards Christ’s Passion that we too may experience the transformative power of Christ in our midst.