Sermon on Luke 9:28-36 (The Tranfiguration)
They say that we’ve all got talents or at least one talent. I’m sure that’s true but it has not always been clear to me what mine are and what they’re not, but I think I can safely say that I do not have much of a talent for music – either for singing or playing an instrument.
That has never stopped me loving music. For me listening to music has been one of the abiding pleasures of life. And, just occasionally, the enjoyment of a piece of music has become a sort of transcendental experience.
I remember a particular instance of hearing a Beethoven symphony on the radio. Beethoven isn’t even, particularly, one of my favourite composers but it was as if listening to the piece justified my whole existence – as if, even if I’d done nothing else whatsoever in my life apart from breathe, that single experience made it all worthwhile. It was as if the joy, the music even, at the heart of creation had been revealed to me.
It think it was indeed a revelation of the joy at the heart of creation. And in a way I just happened to be there at the time. I had made no conscious preparations.
No doubt it was partly down to a combination of the music (which I’d known for years), the performance, my circumstances and my mood at the time. The thing is: you can’t prepare for such an experience. Indeed, if you did prepare, the whole thing would be flatter than you anticipated. Anticipation so often surpasses the thing you’re anticipating.
All you can do is put yourself in the presence of the music and who knows what the experience will reveal? Sometimes it’s simply fine – OK – sometimes it may be boring, and just occasionally it’s pure exaltation.
I think something similar may have happened for the disciples at the Transfiguration. They didn’t see Jesus transfigured every day of the week. It was a one off and completely unexpected.
But what they had done was to put themselves in the presence of Jesus – got to know him – and on this one occasion they are rewarded with a revelation of who he really is. The veil is lifted to reveal what is truly real. They hadn’t anticipated it or consciously prepared for it in any way. But because they’d been in the presence of Jesus they were able to be given that unforgettable experience.
One of the puzzling aspects of the story is when Peter offers to build some booths for Moses, Elijah and Jesus. Why does he do it? Well, he just doesn’t know what to do or say. But why is it such a foolish thing to say, as Luke implies? It seems to be something to do with the fact Peter is trying to make the situation on the mountain permanent. As if they could all set up home there.
But that’s not possible. We all know we can’t spend too much time high up on a mountain. We’re just not designed for it. We need to return down into the valleys where the food is, the shelter and the warmth. Having intense mystical experiences doesn’t pay the bills or put food on the table. That doesn’t mean they are worthless, of course. Such experiences can feed us spiritually and help us to come to terms with our ordinary lives. And our ordinary lives are, I think, dominated by time, by the passing of time, and by change. More so than we sometimes realise. Or we simply take the passage of time for granted.
To come back to the Beethoven symphony: in an attempt to recapture the experience, I went out and bought the CD – same orchestra, same conductor. But it didn’t quite work. Much as I’ve enjoyed listening to that CD, I’ve never been able to repeat the experience of exaltation that I’d previously had.
Music always slips through your fingers. You can hum a tune you’ve heard but, essentially, because music happens in time, it comes and then it goes. That’s the nature of music and it’s the nature of being human.
The years come and go. And, as we all know, there isn’t a thing you can do about it. But if we put ourselves in the presence of God, of Jesus, however we want to put it, just occasionally we may be given a glimpse of the nature of God and our connection to his eternity, of our belonging there. And that glimpse can feed us, bring us warmth and shelter as the years pass.