A pastoral message from our Rector - June 2020
This may sound strange, but when I listened to the prime minister’s recent address to the nation, I found myself thinking about Moses. It’s not that I see Mr Johnson as some sort of prophet – although for some reason my abiding image of an Old testament prophet always seems to include an exuberant hairstyle! Furthermore, I’m quite certain that Mr Johnson and Moses would have a hugely different understanding of what ‘the promised land’ might be like. No, it was just that Boris was speaking of the gradual easing of the lockdown provisions and he cautioned that: “It is coming down from the mountain that is often more dangerous.” And that made me think. That made me think of Moses.
After all, when Moses came down from his forty day mountain top experience on Mount Sinai he was confronted by rebellion, by restlessness, by golden calf worship, (and this next part may worry the prime minister just a little bit more), by impatience and murmur about his leadership too. Then, as now it seems, leadership is never an enviable task. So, this is perhaps a particularly good moment for us all to recall those words of St Paul to Timothy where he urges us to pray for those in authority. Without any doubt, all of those in government, local and national, need our prayers, and especially at this time, because as Mr Johnson implied, coming down the ‘lockdown’ mountain is going to be quite a challenge.
Jesus would understand this too, I think. For Jesus, the Mount of Transfiguration – Tabor or Hermon, who knows? – was the place where he was revealed in self-producing, self-sustaining, and self-projecting light. It was a moment that was all about his heavenly or divine nature. He was seen in his glory. But it was only half the vision. Again, there was to be a risky descent and quite a journey before the vision was complete. I can never read the gospel accounts of the Transfiguration without thinking that as Jesus descended that mountain, as he came down after allowing that brief glimpse of who he always was and is, his eyes must in some way have settled upon a small hill of shame. Away and far distant perhaps, but there, nonetheless. Golgotha or Calvary. The place where he would die for the sins of the world. The place where his glory would be fully and finally revealed. Again, coming down from the mountain top and continuing the journey was going to be fraught with danger.
Of course, our experience of being at the top of ‘lockdown’ mountain has been vastly different from that of either Moses on Mount Sinai or that of the disciples Peter, James and John who were present to witness Jesus’ transfiguration. Theirs were moments of joy, whilst our recent experience has brought terrible loss of life, grief, ill-health and anxiety, fear for the future, damage to the economy and levels of mental ill-health that are unsurpassed in recent memory. But in one especially important respect at least, our mountain top experience is quite the same as theirs. And that is the experience of being in the presence of God. Moses spent forty days in the presence of God on Mount Sinai whilst on the Mount of Transfiguration, God turned up personally and in a bright cloud to affirm Jesus, saying: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” Listen to him. In other words, be guided by him.
It’s the same reassuring voice that had encouraged Moses to carry on after the whole golden calf episode, promising for the journey ahead that: “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” It’s the same reassuring voice that spoke in a ‘in a low whisper ‘to another prophet, to Elijah, encouraging him to continue after his mountain top experience. And it’s the same voice that spoke Jesus’ words to the disciples, promising that after his death, resurrection and ascension God the Father would send them the Holy Spirit, ‘another friend’ as the Spirit has been described, “to help you and be with you forever.”
It’s the same voice that is speaking to us now. As we descend from our ‘lockdown’ we need to be praying both for our worldly guides and for ourselves that we will all be open to the power and presence of God, through the gift of His Holy Spirit, allowing him to guide us, to direct us and to keep us safe as we move forwards. We need to be praying and listening for that voice whether it is heard as a low whisper or as a shout of affirmation, and holding on to the final words of encouragement that Jesus spoke to his disciples: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
With my love and prayers in Christ