Exodus 24: 12-18, Matthew 17: 1-9
The Bible has so many styles of writing in it, doesn’t it? Laws, poetry, song, different stories, letters, history.
Some of the passages help us to find strength in our daily lives, some challenge us, some show us God’s love in new ways.
And some are just puzzling. Like today’s readings.
Moses goes up the mountain, called there by God, to receive God’s laws and commandments. The mountain is covered with cloud and ‘the glory of the Lord’ – which looks like a devouring fire.
This is pretty terrifying stuff: and always makes me think back to the Sunday afternoons of my childhood and the Biblical epics of Cecil B DeMille, with the thundering voice of God and plenty of cloud and fire and trembling.
Be in no doubt, when you read the book of Exodus – God is very scary indeed: only Moses gets to see God face-to-face and even Moses comes back changed by the encounter – the people of Israel are terrified when Moses comes down from the mountain with his face still glowing from his encounter with God.
This story is strange, other-worldly, terrifying, mysterious.
But we are also left in no doubt that Moses has met with God – received God’s teaching, seen something of God’s great power. This is what happens when God’s messenger meets with God.
The disciples – Peter, James & John, who went up the mountain with Jesus - had not, of course, seen the film version of the “Ten Commandments”. But they knew their scripture. So when Jesus’ face begins to glow, they know that he is meeting with God on that mountain top. This is what happens when God’s messenger meets with God.
But then the differences begin:
Not only Jesus face, but his whole being, even his clothes, begin to shine with God’s glory.
Moses and Elijah meet there with Jesus and talk with him – this is not just one man meeting with God, but some kind of coming together of the law and the prophets.
Then God speaks, but not to say to Jesus ‘listen to me’ or ‘receive my law’ as happened to Moses on Mount Sinai. God speaks to the disciples and says
"This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!".
Jesus meets with God the Father on the mountain top, but this is so much more than a prophet receiving God’s teaching. God the Father points to Jesus the Son and tells the disciples that Jesus will give them the teaching – directly – just as Jesus shines with God’s glory directly. The disciples see, on that mountain top, that Jesus is not just the messenger or prophet of God, but is the very embodiment of God’s glory and God’s presence.
No wonder the disciples are terrified. But Jesus touches them and tells them not to be afraid, and leads them back down the mountain with the order "Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.".
I’m sure the disciples needed some time to reflect on what they had seen – time for the reality of Jesus, their friend, as God with them to truly sink in and begin to make sense.
And the disciples were shown this before Jesus’ suffering and death, so that they could be in no doubt that Jesus, God with us, gives up that glory willingly and give himself up for love of the world.
That’s why we have this reading here in our lectionary, on the Sunday before Lent begins.
It is important that we grasp who Jesus truly is – and realize that his identity as the Son of God doesn’t exempt him from pain but leads him to embrace it, out of love.
For Moses and for Jesus an encounter with the presence of God leads to an unmistakable, unmissable glow, reflecting and demonstrating something of the glory and power of God.
So what about us? As we follow Jesus, can we become transfigured, changed as Jesus was?
Have we encountered the light and love and glory of God in our lives – in our worship, in our times of greatest need, in our moments of pure joy?
Dare we be challenged to try to show this glory of God in our lives? How can we better reflect Christ’s light in the world?
Just think for a moment of someone you have met that you would describe as a saint – someone who showed you the love of God, who shone with God’s love reflected in their face and their life. As you think of that person, can you feel, just for a moment, your own smile lighting up?
We know that there are people out there (or maybe they’re in here!) who reflect God’s love and God’s light – and we know that that light shines on the people around them. We know, we’ve seen it for ourselves.
But when you talk to those luminous people, I find that time and again they shrug off any suggestion that they are special, and point you to what God has done in their lives. It is not their own light which makes them shine, it is their openness to recognise and reflect the light of God.
As we receive this communion today, may it so fill us with a sense of Christ’s presence that we cannot help but have the light and glory and love of God shining in our lives.
And let’s go from here determined to let the light shine in us and from us , so that the whole world might see and believe in God’s love.
In the name of Jesus