Last Sunday before Lent 20083 February 2008
Exodus 24: 12 - 18; 2 Peter 1: 16 - 21; Matthew 17: 1 - 9
Candlemas and Ash Wednesday coming so close together have produced a wonderful conjunction of readings. Yesterday we celebrated the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple and today we have read about the Transfiguration.
Simeon, in the words that have become known to us as the Nunc Dimittis, proclaimed what he recognised, that here in the little bundle before him, and then nestling in his arms, was the salvation sent by God for all people. In the Transfiguration we have that voice from heaven, from beyond our physical world, making it clear to the disciples that Jesus is the Son of God and that God is as pleased with him as Simeon was.
The connections between the two accounts are obvious, but I want to pick out something which runs through the Presentation, today’s reading from Exodus, the extract from Peter’s second letter and the Transfiguration.
Moses, instructed by God, went up the mountain, to meet with God and receive the Commandments. He was up there a long time - forty days and nights. He went up to listen to what God had to say.
In the Temple, at Jesus’ Presentation we meet Simeon. “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” He’d been watching and waiting a long time. We also meet the prophet Anna. “She never left the Temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day.” She, also, had been watching and waiting upon God.
In his letter Peter remembers the Transfiguration which he, with James and John, witnessed. He is clear they heard the voice proclaiming Jesus’ true identity. His time of service had shown him the importance of acknowledging Jesus as Christ, as Son of God. This was no myth, but a reality to be ingested and to remain for all time. We are to see the glory of God and fix our gaze on it as we would on a lamp in a dark place, “until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” Peter was approaching his death when he wrote this letter. It was probably around AD 68, so he’d changed from the ‘impulsive young man’ to one who had experienced much, and no doubt suffered much, over the years. The morning star had definitely risen in his heart.
It was a different story back at the Transfiguration, though. The ‘impulsive young man’ was very much in evidence. There they are, on the mountain, when Jesus’ appearance changes. Moses and Elijah appear. Being who these two were, there must be a very important reason for their being there. Most people, finding themselves in such company, would be all ears. We’d want to know what was being said by them to Jesus and what Jesus was saying to them. But no! In jumps Peter, with both feet - size 12s. Worthy though his sentiments were, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah”, they were the wrong words at the wrong time.
In Matthew’s account Peter doesn’t get chance to finish. The bright cloud appears and God’s voice breaks through what Peter is saying. Peter is basically told to shut up and listen. “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him!”
It wasn’t enough to follow Jesus around, to watch him do wonderful things, to hear him telling stories. It wasn’t even enough to say, as Peter did, “You are the Christ; the Son of the living God.”
What Peter, and the other disciples, had to do was give God time...just as Moses did, as Simeon and Anna did... just as Jesus did. Thirty years of preparation, forty days in the wilderness, going up mountains to pray, was time given, time spent waiting, time spent hanging on the word of God, listening.
The person in an orchestra who has one short passage to play on a triangle, waits throughout the movement for the appointed time; waits and listens to all that goes before, so that the right notes come at the right time. It’s no use being a beat early or a beat late.
Watching, waiting and listening take time. That is what we are called to. Like Moses, Simeon, Anna and Peter, who eventually got the message, we are called to listen to what God wants to say to us and through us. To speak too soon, or not to speak at all when we should, is like the triangle coming in a bit early or a bit late. It’s appointed time and place is missed. It’s like Peter wanting to get on and do something note-worthy, but being drowned out by God’s voice. We are called to live in expectation that the Christ will come to us, will rise like the morning star in our hearts, will reveal God’s glory, will speak the words that spur us on, or that whisper ‘the end is near, depart in peace’. We are called to wait, to listen. As it has been said, we have been given one mouth but two ears, so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.
I wonder, when our time on earth is done, will we be asked not how much we said, but how much we listened? If I speak I listen to my own voice. If I listen, I may just hear God’s voice.
Time for me to be silent, I think!
Sister Aileen CSC