Sermon 2017 February 26th




“We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven,

while we were with him on the holy mountain.” 2 Peter 1:18


Do you have a favourite piece of higher ground?

A hill, a mountain, that is your go-to place – even if only in mind’s eye?

The wheres and whys would be a rich source of story and shared humanity.


What is it about higher ground that some, so yearn for?

Is it simply, “Because it’s there:”

as British mountaineer, George Mallory famously said,

when asked why he kept returning to Everest.


Higher ground; place to regain perspective,

rejuvenate vision, reignite astonishment.

A place to set aside immediate concerns or daily duties;

to cherish memories or let them go.

A look out, from which to recall our place in things,

perhaps our connections to eternity.


Stephen Venables, was the first Briton to reach the summit of Everest

alone and without the aid of oxygen:

 “In the big mountains noise equates to danger.”

(Cracking ice, splitting rocks, gathering avalanche.)

“By contrast, silence means that everything is still and safe.

So I love silence. It’s what I want.


When I got to the summit of Everest that day in 1988,

it was late afternoon  and just starting to snow,

but the wind hadn’t got up so there was a sort of blanketing effect

and that silence had the most powerful quality.


I was potentially in a very dangerous place,

utterly alone, with five or six billion people down below,

and yet I was in that calm, serene silence.

It felt almost like a blessing.”

The Power of Silence G Turner pp6


In his book, Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination,

Robert Macfarlane suggests:

 “Mountains return us to the priceless capacity for wonder…

and they urge us to apply that wonder to our own everyday lives.” (Macfarlane, Mountains, p276)

The scriptures are big on mountains.

Moses at Mount Sinai, Elijah huddled in a mountain cave,

Jerusalem, the holy city, set upon a hill.

The prophet Micah entreats: “Come let us go to the mountain of the Lord…

that he may teach us his ways….” Micah 4:2

 “Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John

and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.”

Note the six days later. Nothing, as they say, happens in a vacuum.

The gospel writer very carefully ties the vision of this mountain top

with what has gone before.

It arises after Peter’s declaration at Caesarea Philippi that Jesus is the Christ;

And it follows Jesus’ teaching that true messiahship

takes the way of suffering and death,

and that his followers would be those who take up their cross and follow.


So we are led to the thin places of another biblical peak,

layered with clues and symbol –

mountain, dazzling light, glowing countenance –

so reminiscent of Moses at Sinai.

Then, the presence and commendation of Moses and Elijah –

venerable dignitaries, representing the Law and the Prophets.


After – the cloud descending – very presence of God; from within, the Voice.

The words echo those given to Jesus at his baptism.

 “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”


Centuries later St Benedict would write in the Prologue, the Rule of Benedict.

“Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God

 and our ears to the voice from heaven.”


If today we look and listen, what might we receive?

The Transfiguration affirms the early church’s foundational belief about Jesus;

not just another exceptional human being, prophet

or great teacher and example for all,

but the decisive representation of the Divine.

(“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:16)


Coming where it does, the Transfiguration is an assurance,

before the end, about the end.

C S Lewis, author of the Tales of Narnia,

writes a final word from Aslan in The Silver Chair:

“Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly.

 I will not often do so down in Narnia.

Here on the mountain the air is clear;

as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken.

Take great care that it does not confuse your mind.

And the signs you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look,

when you meet them there.

That is why it is so important to know them by heart

and pay no attention to appearance.

Remember the signs and believe the signs.

Nothing else matters.”


The Transfiguration is a glimpse, a confidence, a provision,

something to hold onto when they descend, as descend they must,

into the crushing realities and hostilities of the world below.


The Transfiguration stands at the beginning of the passion narrative.

The Transfiguration is only to be understood in the context of the greater glory of the Resurrection which still awaits the Passion of Christ.


Lent at St Columba’s – Friends Ash Wednesday visit to Tower of London;

music recital, poetry and silent prayer, bible study, Lent Appeal –

a variety of ways to explore and deepen our discipleship, our own sacred journeys.

Opportunities to open our eyes to the light that comes from God

 and our ears to the voice from heaven.”


After the dream – the departure.

Much as there was the desire to remain in the place beyond doubt,

to make a monument out of a moment, the disciples are not permitted that.

They must return to the valley,

because that is where their Master is already headed.


Back in the everyday, where the crowds wrestle with illness;

unpretty, dusty places, and difficult, wearisome people.

As a conversation in a taxi ran on Friday ran:

a cheerful Somali taxi driver asking his passengers:

How do you redeem a city like this?”

One passenger answering: “One conversation at a time?”


This Sunday of Transfiguration, preparing for the sacred season of Lent,

we are given a fleeting, precious insight – a glimpse of glory.

It is enough says Jesus.

“Let the vision live on.

What you have seen in the heights travels with you in the depths.

The road ahead – that of a Suffering Messiah – is no easy one.

But you do not travel it in vain or alone.

Trust – do not be afraid. Now, let’s be going.”