—Gavin Koh, 26 February 2017.
Exodus 24. 12–18; 2 Peter 1. 16–21; Matthew 17. 1–9.
As most of you know, I was born and brought up in Singapore. If you dropped the island of Singapore onto London, the whole island wouldn't even touch the edges of the M25.
Five million souls stacked up on an island 30 miles long and 17 miles wide. Singapore is a small place, and if you don't like crowds, it can be claustrophobic. An English friend once said to me, ‘Walking down the street in Singapore is like Wembley Stadium coming out after a match, except all the time.’ Everyone is always busy. Everyone is always going somewhere. The noise and the crowd mean it is difficult sometimes even to hear yourself think.
The first mountain I ever climbed was Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia. I was about 17 years old and I went with my father and his friend. The mountain stands just over 13,000 feet above sea level at the Northern tip of the Island of Borneo.
On the last day, we woke at 2 o’clock in the morning to reach the summit at dawn; where we watched the sun rise below us and cast its glorious red light over the South China Sea.
On that mountain top, I escaped, temporarily, the hustle and bustle of Singapore. There was nothing there to do except be still, to watch the sun rise, and to see the light flood the dark spaces of the night.
And then it was over. I climbed back down the mountain. I went back to Singapore. To the heat and the noise. And that was that.
I’ll admit that right now, I have an almost overwhelming urge to run from the world. To climb up a mountain to get away from it all.
Like many of you, I am very troubled by the populist, nationalistic, and frankly Fascist, politics that seem to be engulfing the world. I would really like to spend the next few years in a secluded monastery.
In today’s epistle reading, St Peter talks of this world as being a ‘dark place.’ These words resonate with me. I hear the hate being pronounced by Donald Trump from America. Our so-called Christian country says that we will turn away 3,000 refugee children whom we previously promised to take. How can we call ourselves Christian if we can turn away the most desperate and vulnerable in our world? I want somebody to tell me it is all a bad dream, and that it will soon be over.
Today is the Last Sunday before Lent, The Sunday before Ash Wednesday, or, Transfiguration Sunday, in the Revised Common Lectionary. In the gospels of St Matthew, St Mark, and St Luke, the Transfiguration stands at a central point of the gospel story.
The voice from heaven is heard only twice in the gospels: first, at Jesus' baptism, at the start of Jesus’ ministry; second, at the Transfiguration. We must therefore see the Transfiguration as a critical point, a turning point in the gospels.
And what were Jesus, Moses and Elijah talking about at this mountaintop meeting? Matthew and Mark are silent on this point, but Luke tells us that they were talking about Jesus’ departure. Now, in English, it would be easy to take the word ‘departure’ as a euphemistic expression, referring simply to Jesus’ death. But, if we look at the Greek word, perhaps it would weigh a little more in our minds, because the Greek word is Exodus.
What does this mean?
From this point on, the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke change direction, and all take the same shape. This, the Transfiguration, is the turning point. The sweep of the gospel narrative from this point on takes in Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, his passion, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. The whole act of God’s salvation. This is the Exodus, that Jesus, Moses and Elijah are talking about.
If this is a turning point in the church calendar, then let today, be a turning point for each and every one of us in our lives. Moses was on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights, communing with God. The 40 days of Lent begin on Ash Wednesday. Let us use the 40 days of Lent to commune with God.
This is what I ask you to do in those 40 days: Leave behind the distractions of this world. You can do something as simple as giving up chocolate or alcohol (which is the ‘Anglican’ thing to do!), or go the whole hog and fast from sunrise to sunset for each of the 40 days of Lent.
The important thing is not the degree of self-deprivation or mortification of the flesh, or some misplaced sense of pious, masochistic suffering. The important thing is to remind us to set ourselves apart from the world, for 40 days. Set aside ten minutes, twenty minutes, an hour, every day in Lent to ascend the mountain of prayer.
Dedicate these forty days to God. Pray for this broken world. Ask God, if we are the hands and feet of the Body of Christ, then what I am to be? A hand? Or a foot? What does God want me to do?
A month ago, the parish council met to agree three areas of mission within the this parish: youth aged 11 to 19, pastoral care and social action. May I ask you to read them? Print outs are at the back of the church.
And at the end of forty days, come back down the mountain. For Jesus and Moses both had to go back down the mountain. Moses, to deliver the Law; Jesus, to perform his redeeming act of salvation. When the 40 days of Lent are over, come back down the mountain and return to to this broken world.
Remember St Peter's admonition to us all. That we are to be as ‘a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.’ [2 Peter 1:19]
Jesus calls us to behold the glory of his presence in his Transfiguration. But he then calls us to be a light shining in this dark, broken