Sermon by Rev Allister Lane on 11 February 2018
Readings were Mark 9: 2 – 9 and 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
So far this year our weekly Gospel readings have come from Mark’s Gospel. In fact, they have all come from just the first chapter of Mark! Mark doesn’t muck around – he’s straight to the point: this is Jesus. What does he mean to you?
We’ve read how Mark presents Jesus to us from various perspectives:
- encounters with people,
- saying things a certain way,
- acting in a certain way.
As we jump ahead in Mark’s Gospel today, we see again Mark presenting Jesus to us for consideration.
This moment (called the Transfiguration of Jesus) presents Jesus in a remarkable and mysterious way. Jesus is seen in a whole new way… (literally) seen in a whole new way. The Transfiguration is a glimpse of Jesus’ glory, which we will one day see fully.
And this is a theme of the Gospels – seeing in part what will one day be fulfilled. We get a ‘preview’ of what is to come! One such example we had last week: Jesus heals people as his demonstration of how things will be; when God’s rule (God’s kingdom) is fully seen, there will be fullness of life and wholeness for everyone.
In a sense, Jesus has been showing his disciples the high mountain-top view of what the Kingdom of God is like; in extraordinary actions and puzzling but profound words they see the reality of God’s Kingdom.
In today’s events (literally on top of a mountain) they see the greater reality of who Jesus is. A veil is pulled back and, bathed in love and power, Jesus’ whole being is transformed with light – in the way that music transforms words that are sung.
Perhaps the Transfiguration is presented as a literal ocular ‘seeing’ of Jesus for who he truly is, that offers us a reference point for ‘seeing’ Jesus in the sense that our faith perceives, comprehends, takes in the truth of who he is (what Jesus means to us).
So, can we see Jesus? Are such glimpses of God’s glory available to us? Can we see Jesus in such a way that grows our faith, and might enable us to reflect God’s glory out to the world?
At Christmas we rejoice that
the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory. (John 1:14)
At the heart of the Christian faith is a profound truth: God has come into our midst – if we see Jesus, we see God.
If we have the eyes of faith that ‘sees’ Jesus – recognises him as the Son, the Beloved – when we see Jesus this way, we see God.
In the letter to the Hebrews Jesus is described as (again)
…the reflection of God’s glory, and the exact imprint of God’s very being… (Heb 1:3)
Jesus is the image of God.
Jesus is the image of God.
What might that mean? What does ‘seeing Jesus’ mean for us today? Let me read a poem by Adrian Plass, titled Image of the Invisible God.
Given for us
A lover of nature
Master of timing
A good son
A good friend
An enjoyer of parties
He relished the company of people
But did not trust the hearts of men
Filled with sadness
Filled with joy
Filled with love
Filled with frustration
He adored children because they reminded him of home
Broke his own rules
Angry with enemies and disciples
Happy to get down on his knees to wash feet
A man with secret friends
Very badly hurt
A lover of the lost
A man who knew how to cook fish
Given for us
Image of the invisible God
Jesus is the image of God, who comes to re-create the image of God in us. Seeing Jesus is a real part of our faith. Seeing Jesus transforms us and implicates us in this revealed reality of God’s Kingdom.
But let’s be honest… faith also means NOT seeing Jesus. If your experience of faith is anything like mine, then at times I feel I am seeing Jesus clearly, and at other times I feel I can’t see Jesus at all.
Jesus appears and disappears.
Imagine for a moment being in a small boat in a stormy sea. There is land on the horizon, but the waves are so big, tossing the boat up and down that one moment you see the land, the next moment the height of the waves makes the land disappear from sight. The land appears and disappears.
So if faith is like this – sometimes we see Jesus and other times he seems invisible – what can we be sure of?
Christians across centuries have affirmed, in different ways, the central belief that Jesus promises to be present in our celebration of Communion – the Lord’s Supper. By Jesus’ own invitation, we meet at the table to receive grace anew and to encounter Jesus in the ordinary stuff of life: bread and wine.
In this meal by the Holy Spirit, the Father re-members us and makes us one with Christ and with each other. It is here, around the table, that our faith is nourished and our vision is expanded beyond what this dark, fragmented, distorted world can contain. We see the reality of Jesus’ presence in our communion with God and with one another.
This painting is by Victor Bregeda is titled Last Supper. You can perhaps see already that it is full of symbolism.
The painting is centred on the table covered in a white cloth – it is the table of the Last Supper in the upper room (and perhaps also the Communion Table found in churches around the world). We can tell this because of the broken bread and the wine present on the table.
Around the table are ancient amphoras. There are twelve of these vessels representing the first twelve disciples.
These are the vessels that are soon to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Their broken handles and leaning positions symbolise the imperfect nature of humanity.
What about Jesus? Do we see Jesus? Jesus is notably absent from the table.
It may be hard to see at first, but the painter has presented Jesus’ presence over this whole scene. The dark backdrop is flecked with colour, with each brushstroke a heavenly creature.
Perhaps this introduces into the presence of table another dramatic scene as described in Revelation 5:11
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.
In dramatic fashion, the angels form a pattern that reveals the image of the Beloved.
The glory of God is shown here in this way. Christ is ever-present, seen not only with those first disciples, but with anyone who is willing to follow Him.
Jesus is present in Communion. Around the table our faith is nourished and our vision is expanded.
The Scottish theologian Thomas F. Torrance said:
… faith [reaches] forward in eager expectation of sight because it is faith that has already seen invisibly the risen Saviour. And faith knows that day will come when Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, will return and the veil will be torn aside and we shall see him as he is and become like him.
Christ is present with us and yet he is still to come. Then his presence will be full.
In the meantime we have ENOUGH. We see Jesus in the glimpses that are presented in the different perspectives of the Gospels, glimpses of encounter, glimpses that we share with one another encouraging our faith to grow and sustaining us in those times we cannot see Jesus.
We believe it is enough for us to hold onto faith, until we shall see Jesus fully. This is for our own sake, as well as for all.
I conclude with the words we heard read from the Apostle Paul:
For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.