Mark 2:2-9, 2 Kings 2:1-12
I love mountains. In particular the Scottish kind, and even more particularly, Scottish mountains in winter raiment. Usually during January or February one or both of my sons and I head north to the Highlands and frolic in the white stuff: ice axe, crampons, not generally ropes and things, but high up, in the cold and ice. So this week has been a tricky one because I have been seeing photos on the news and all over the internet of many snow-clad ridges, and have listened with terrible envy of the minus 22 degrees in Braemar.
But there’s always next year...
It may strike you as ironic, then, that I am here in Somerset at one of the lowest points on the British Isles. In a place where the levels flood and the highest point is probably Burrow Mump! All you needed to get up there this week was wellies and stick. Of course, the beauty here is of a different kind altogether.
Mountains are fascinating places in almost all cultures and societies. The Himalaya are considered to be the habitation of Gods, as was Mount Olympus, of course. In Ireland there is Croag Patrick’s peak, a place of pilgrimage. And, more secularly, in South Dakota, there is Mount Rushmore, a massive carving to celebrate four US presidents.
Why are mountains so significant? On one level, perhaps, it is very obvious: mountains are huge and gods are huge. Goes together. Add to this my own little bit of theory: as creatures who crawl around on the surface of the planet, until hot air balloons a few centuries ago, the only way a human could get a sense of how things looked on the land was to climb a mountain, or to at higher place, at least.
Whilst we are living in a 3D world, we live our lives in only two of them: along the ground. Mountains give us a feeling of being with God because we can see what God sees: all of existence before us. Climb the Mump and you get a sense of how things fit together.
Mountains feature throughout scriptures, from the ten commandments on Mount Sinai, through to the mount of Olives, by way of the “very high mountain” where Satan showed Jesus the whole world as a temptation and then the sermon on the mount. They’re everywhere, and in all cases something special happens. Something is revealed that we ordinarily wouldn’t notice or consider. In this case, in what we call “The Transfiguration”—when Jesus appears to the three “main” disciples, Peter, James and John, alongside Moses and Elijah—the special thing is that Jesus is revealed to them as someone far greater than the carpenter’s son from Nazareth. He stands alongside Moses, the big hero of the Jews, who communicated God’s laws to the ancient Israelites and also Elijah, a man who as we recall was taken up into heaven on a chariot of fire in a whirlwind. There are plenty of whirlwinds on mountains.
The passage from 2 Kings 2 is truly magnificent and it echoes as well the history of the Israelites who, on leaving Egypt are able to cross the Red Sea because Moses parted the waters with God’s power. Read on and you will notice all kinds of correlations between Moses and Elijah, and then, with Jesus too.
These events, the parting of the waters, the commandments, the mountain settings and the appearance of all three on the High Mountain in Mark’s Gospel are all, of course, a conflation intended to demonstrate the importance of Jesus to those around him.
On the mountain they are able to see more than the people below. They see in an extra dimension, and they recognise that Jesus is more than “the son of man”. He is the Son of God, of whom God as father says he is the beloved, and to whom the disciples should listen. It is another revelation. All through the Gospels, Jesus is revealed again and again as The Son, and yet, as I said last week, the world continues not to recognise this.
So, why keep quiet?
Peter, ever the practical one, says, Hey! Let’s build a memorial to this moment. Let’s mark it in some way. Bless him (and we are all like Peter). He is a folk hero. Just as Moses had the stones of the covenant, Peter wants to use stones to commemorate and fix the transfiguration.
We do it all the time. Look around you. Look around this beautiful church. Look at the Athelney Monument. Look at St Michael’s atop Burrow Mump. All are places of beauty and commemoration, but what do they reveal about the nature of God in the world? When Jesus was glowing white, the disciples were terrified at what they saw in the man they knew as Jesus. Their understanding of the world was changed.
And what did Jesus say?
“As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”
Aren’t we also told: Don’t put your light under the bushel; put your lamp stand on a hill; That The light came into the world and the world did not know it. Yet now Jesus says, “tell no one about what they had seen”. What is that all about?
Notice, he doesn’t say "don’t ever say nothing." He says, “say nothing until after the son of man has risen from the dead." All through Mark’s Gospel Jesus says, “say nothing”, like Elisha says to the company of prophets, “be silent”. All through our lives of faith we are often challenged to explain what it all means, and we generally can’t quite explain it. That is because we still haven’t got to the top of the mountain and seen it all like God does. Even from the top of Everest, that is ot high enough to be with God.
We can’t see the whole picture, yet. Rather we see through a glass darkly. Even the transfiguration isn’t enough, sparkling though it must have been, to know everything about God. The important thing is that until Jesus dies and rises again, we cannot even begin to understand fully.
Jesus says, “Say nothing until you’ve seen the whole story”.
The glory of the transfiguration is one thing, but the entire story is only knowable through a life full ofexperience. We might not be able to get to the tops of the highest mountains, and even Burrow Mump is a challenge for many, but through prayer, reflection and experience we can come to know more: and we can get closer and closer to the summit, when we finally meet God.
Until then, we can only look on and see the transfiguration of God in the reflected light we all share.
At last, after so many months of biting our lips or (at best) humming along to our favourite hymns and songs, we can now... ta da aaaah... sing in church!
From this coming Sunday, 25th July, after the pandemic restrictions have been fully lifted, we are making one significant shift in our protocols: singing is permitted across all Athelney Benefice churches.
Please note: all other protocols remain operative, so, no common cup, please wear masks inside church, please maintain a sensible distance from each other and please be aware that some may be less than comfortable with a release of the restrictions.
As sensitive and mature people, I know we can all understand the need for these continuing behaviours, but in the meantime: SING! SING! SING!
In the garden at Manor End, The Fosse with Liz and Keith Gibbs
Saturday 10th July 10-12am
Proceeds to the Church Bell Fund
NB If it’s wet we’ll cancel!
Also, sorry, there’s no parking at the house!
Bells have rung in North Curry church since at least the reign of Henry VIII. Half of the current bells are already over 200 years old.
They are a traditional part of the village, and not just for churchgoers. The bells are heard by all: most often in the church clock chimes, which sound every quarter, day and night; but they also mark the turning points of village and personal life, from births and weddings to funerals.
But the bells can no longer be rung as before. The frame and fittings that support them, and the bells themselves, are wearing out. It is no longer safe to ring the largest bells together. We need to raise around £150,000 to get the bells ringing again. If you would lie to help with this, please head over to the northcurrybells.com site and find out how.
Please start giving some thought to your favourites. The Sunday worship at Stoke St Gregory on 18th July will be a combined “Songs of Praise” with the Baptist church. It will be outdoors and so we will be able to sing openly and without masks… O Joy! There will be a suggestion form in church in Lyng on 13th June and subsequently in Stoke St Gregory.
We are gathering tomorrow (13th June) for our monthly united benefice Eucharist. This month it is at St Bartholomew's, Lyng. Parking is available in the "Old Pub Carpark": thank you!
It has been a while but Coffee Wednesday is returning to North Curry Church. You may remember it as Coffee Monday, but the vicar's day off is Monday and he doesn't want to miss out!
10am every week starting 9th June in the church. There will be cake.
It is not fully formed, and there are some odd gaps but as of this week (10th June 2021) it is going live. Please be patient as we continue to develop it and add many more features. Thanks!