Lord, may we see your glory. May that glory fill this holy place and fill the whole world. May your glory seep from the heavens into our lives to animate us and illumine our hearts, that, as Christ’s glory was seen by human witnesses on the holy mountain, we may see that glory in our worship.
Our readings today tell of human witnesses led up mountains where they see God’s glory. First Moses goes alone, leaving Aaron and Hur, and then Jesus goes up the mountain, taking Peter, James and John with him.
When glory bursts out heaven touches earth.
This glory breaks out in the Law, the way of hallowing every day in relationship with God, revealed through Moses on the mountain top. This glory is described as a devouring fire, so powerful and searing it was.
God’s glory doesn’t just appear on mountain tops. The prophet Isaiah has a vision within the Temple: heaven touches earth. Isaiah sees the Lord enthroned in heavenly splendour as seraphs call ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory’ (Isaiah 6.3). Glory is released and unrestricted, it’s not hemmed in or defined: unbounded glory!
And yet in Israel’s story the glory has dimmed. It was like that before God raised up Samuel. In Eli’s day the light was dimmed, but not quite gone out God (1 Samuel 3.1-3a). The glory itself was not dim, but it appeared dim because frail human eyes could not see it.
(Glory dims in our own day when the gospel is betrayed by those who espouse goodness, truth and beauty and then - from positions of authority, power or trust - abuse the young and the vulnerable physically, emotionally or spiritually. I am thinking here of instances of the diabolical abuse of minors. That violates the vulnerable and defaces the beauty of the vision of Jesus Christ).
That is no vision of Christ, but a vision of obstinate human sin.
Such a contrast is when Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain and there they see the most overwhelming sight. It is the radiant glory of God. Nothing brighter or more splendid is seen in all creation. Accompanying this sight are the words of the Father,, that we recall from Christ's Baptism, ‘this is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him’. (Matthew 17.5b)
This glory is intertwined in the tapestry of the scriptures. And on the Holy Mountain there is the intriguing reference to the presence of Moses and Elijah. Threads from Israel’s story are woven into the Transfigured Glory of Jesus. The witnesses saw not only Jesus Christ but Moses, representing the Law and Elijah representing the Prophets; Elijah’s presence hinting at the ministry of John the Baptist, our patron saint who prepares the way of the Lord.
On that mountain Jesus is central, flanked by Moses and Elijah, and he is the light through which the Old Covenant of Law and Prophets is to be seen.
It’s little wonder that Peter wants to capture and hold on to this glory.
In words, later attributed to him, Peter describes how he saw this uncreated, divine light, and heard those words, as an eyewitness of Christ’s majesty. And he wants us to glimpse what he saw. He exhorts us, ‘You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your heart’ (2 Peter 1.19b).
St John reflected on this glory in the life of Christ: ‘The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’ (John 1.17). It is in Jesus Christ that we see the fullness of God’s glory: ‘And the Word was made flesh and we have seen his glory, glory as of a father’s only Son, full of grace and truth’ (John 1.14)
How do we connect with this glory?
The way is through Jesus Christ. The journey of glory is not just about mountain top revelations, but a way that takes us through the dark valleys and the sunlit peaks of human experience.
We see this when Jesus takes Peter and James and John somewhere else. This time it is to a dark place and not up a mountain. He takes them down, into the Valley in Jerusalem, between the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives: to Gethsemane.
It’s as if to say, if you want to see the glory you have to go into the darkness too. From Gethsemane Jesus begins his walk to the Cross, lifted up on the hill, the mount of Calvary. He had already revealed to the disciples, and to us, that it is when he is lifted up on the cross that his glory will be fully seen. (John 12.20-26). And there he is not flanked by great figures of Israel’s story but by two convicted criminals; his glory is revealed even there.
Lent is a journey into glory, in its darkness and acknowledgement of our sinfulness. As we hear on Ash Wednesday, as the sign of the cross is marked on our heads in ash, ‘Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return; turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ’.
We begin that journey this Wednesday. The self-denial of Lent, the forty days and forty nights, clears our sight to see the glory of Easter.
In Lent we do not sing the great opening of the Eucharist, ‘Glory be to God on high’, the glorious word, Alleluia’ falls silent, and yet still we sing, ‘Holy, holy, holy Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Glory be to thee O Lord most high’.
May our journey together this Lent, be a journey into life and hope; a journey into glory.