The very last chapter of our Old Testament says this. Malachi ch 4:6. Entitled in the Good News Bible
The day of the Lord is coming.
But before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. I will send you the prophet Elijah. He will bring fathers and children together again; otherwise I would have to come and destroy your county.
Magicians rely on the fact that we have expectations about what should happen. If someone appears to be enclosed in a box and swords appear to pass through that box, we expect the person inside to be injured.. The surprise is that in a magic act, it doesn’t happen… at least it’s not supposed to! We expect certain norms in life and in this the 21st we don’t really expect to see anything
Very miraculous happening from day to day. If someone tells us a strange and wonderful story which seems to be a miracle we’re inclined to think that they’re not well or that they have an over-active imagination. We just don’t expect anything miraculous to happen anymore.
It wasn’t like that in the days that we read about in our Bible. There were lots of things that people found miraculous happening all the time. We, clever as we are, have lots of scientific explanations for most things these days but the miracle of today is that we still haven’t managed to explain away everything away – not nearly! The disciples on that mountain-top had only one explanation that they could deal with for what they were seeing.
They were terrified! They knew the prophecies from the Old Testament off by heart. They thought the day of the Lord was here! There he was, their friend alongside the greatest prophets of all time! Like most of us when something amazing happens, they wanted to mark it somehow, they wanted to build three special tents for Moses, Elijah and Jesus… but then the voice speaks.(and I love the way the Good News Bible puts it… ) “They took a quick look round but didn’t see anyone else.
Can’t you just imagine the scene? They’re already amazed at what they’re seeing, they gather their thoughts to make a suggestion and then a voice speaks and there’s a sort of “hey, who said that?” moment! God puts them right. Jesus is not just one of the greatest prophets, he is streets ahead. This is the moment when Jesus’ true nature is revealed to them …Jesus is God’s Son. Not just a very important messenger. He tells the amazed disciples not to tell anyone what they have seen until after the resurrection. That just wouldn’t work on Arran (or in Dunoon!) would it? How hard would it be to keep something like that a secret?
Now what was all that about? Was it just a bit of theatrical nonsense to dazzle these poor Galilean fishermen? No of course not! It had great significance for what was to come. Yes, they were used to seeing amazing things happen around Jesus. Their society believed in miracles and wonders. They knew about the prophecies of the Old Testament but they still were not quite sure about Jesus and they were beginning to wonder what the end of it all would be. Jesus was starting to talk to them about dying. They were confused and probably scared. Jesus needed them to understand his significance but he wanted these special disciples to keep the knowledge to themselves until after the resurrection. Then they could tell the story with fresh eyes and it wouldn’t be half a story but a completed story. They would remember that vision on the mountain and they would know.
God had to grab them with something quite spectacular that would stick in their minds and offer them comfort when things seemed really bleak. That vision was to be their comfort blanket in the days leading up to and immediately following the resurrection.
We’re beginning the countdown to Easter. Next week we’re in Lent and we begin it with a serious celebration of all that is delicious and fatty… Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday is the start. It’s the high point! Eat up all those goodies, butter cheese wine, chocolate, make pancakes and get ready for the lean times. Enjoy all the good times and store up the memory of those delicious treats as a comfort blanket to keep you going till Easter Sunday and the celebration of the resurrection.
The lead up to Easter for the disciples began with the magnificence of the Transfiguration. In between were the difficult times. The betrayal, arrest, crucifixion and all the sadness and despair that goes along with that. And then, just as the despair had set in and it looked like all was lost, Easter day came along and changed the world forever! This is a really important time for us as Christians. We are invited to travel with Jesus from this day into a time of real mystery. In order to get the most out of it we need to put aside all our preconceptions and be prepared to be moved by the journey, from darkness to light, from doubt to faith, from sadness to delight, from hate to love, from war to peace, from captivity to deliverance and from death to life!
But here’s the question. Can we really believe it all? In the face of rampant secularism where do we put these stories of the miraculous? In last week’s news we heard that the majority of Christians don’t go to Church regularly. They tick the box on the survey but don’t attend or are a member of any Church. Are we in the end days, has the age of scientific discovery finally called the death knell of faith? Is Christianity just an empty label? Many atheistic or agnostic scientists would have us choose between science and faith. They site people like Charles Darwin and tell how his faith was destroyed by his discoveries but that was not the case in fact! As it happens it wasn’t that his science turned him into a skeptic that couldn’t find space for God in his life. It was an experience of terrible suffering that destroyed his ability to pray. The Church has always struggled with the concept of human suffering and Darwin was no different. His wonderfully cocooned and well-heeled life had never experienced suffering and his eyes were opened to that, first of all, in the science of natural selection and then when he suffered the loss of his beloved daughter in 1851 at Easter time. Annie was only ten and for Darwin that was the last straw. It was the experience of his own suffering that finished it for him!
Darwin was angry with God and blamed him for the suffering world. We all know people who feel like that and no, I can’t begin to explain away the human experience of suffering. It remains a mystery. But I can tell you one thing, that if we can just take this season seriously and start to open our minds and hearts to what this journey to Easter can teach us then we will be rewarded in a most miraculous way. Every human emotion and experience is mirrored in the readings we will have between now and Easter Sunday. Every joy and pain is there in what happened to Jesus and his disciples. The story tells us he understands us and the resurrection tells us lie will never, never leave us.
In Jesus name and for his sake, to him be the power and the glory, world without end.