Sunday next before Lent

14th February 2021

Sunday next before Lent

Year B

 

Collect

Almighty Father,
whose Son was revealed in majesty
before he suffered death upon the cross:
give us grace to perceive his glory,
that we may be strengthened to suffer with him
and be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

 

2 Kings 2.1-12

When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the LORD has sent me to Bethel.”

But Elisha said, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.

The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “but do not speak of it.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the LORD has sent me to Jericho.”

And he replied, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho.

The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” he replied, “but do not speak of it.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.”

And he replied, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on.

Fifty men of the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”

“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.

“You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours – otherwise not.”

As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart.

 

2 Corinthians 4.3-6

If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

 

Mark 9.2-9

Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Suddenly, when they looked round, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

 

A reflection by Hilary

 

I suspect few if any of us, as we were locked down some eleven months ago, could have predicted that we would be in yet another lock down at this time this year.   Months followed weeks with signs of hope last summer as infection rates fell only to be followed in the autumn by another increase in infections and since Christmas with a frightening increase in the number of deaths on the Island.  And yet, just before Christmas an element of hope and transformation appeared in the form of a vaccine but the last eleven months in many ways have seemed like a somewhat extended Lent!

 

The Old and New Testament readings for today speak of two interconnected spaces many centuries apart.  A place of transition, a place of transformation, a season of waiting, of not  knowing, many centuries apart.  In the Old Testament reading for today we see the arrival of chariots and horses of fire and Elijah’s departure from this world.  In the Gospel reading we hear Mark’s fairly brief account of the Transfiguration where we see Elijah and Moses appearing to Jesus.  Both events are transformative for those directly involved.  Elisha, who witnesses Elijah taken into heaven, is empowered to lead the prophets of Israel, whereas Jesus experiences a literal transfiguration, where he is affirmed by his Father and endorsed as the son of God in front of the three disciples he has taken up the mountain with him.

 

The transfiguration is one of the most important events of the Gospels, yet it is only witnessed by three disciples. The contrast with the earthy narrative of the rest of Mark’s Gospel is striking. This transcendent Jesus seems quite different from the man the disciples have been following. Yet this event is of vital importance to ensure that they do not miss Jesus divinity at the heart of his humanity. It is a remarkable truth, but one which only a few are able to perceive. The writer of the Gospel makes it clear that this is a special insight, one that only those who have the potential to perceive the truth may grasp – those who are especially close to Jesus, and able to “listen to him”.. Even then, they need to be taken out of their usual context to see something that has been right before their eyes – the truth of who Jesus really is.

 

So why does Jesus tell them not to tell anyone? The “Messianic secret” in Mark’s Gospel can be a little confusing, but is generally thought to indicate Jesus’ unwillingness to draw attention to himself in an inappropriate way – he came to serve, not to be served and ultimately to die.  His true and transcendent nature needs to be understood, and followed, in the light of the passion and resurrection. However, it is important that we never forget his true identity as the Son of God, the Messiah – and that perspective transforms everything else. Jesus must take priority in all our thinking, our seeing, and our action in the world.

 

As we approach Lent, we are called to set aside time to be with Jesus, to “listen to him” and renew our relationship with him. We may not be able to climb mountains, or indeed go anywhere different, certainly not at this time and therefore a quiet day or even a short retreat is not an option this year unless it is on Zoom!   But it is important to find a way of gaining a different perspective for the forthcoming season of Lent.  For some, this may come through a “Lenten discipline” – as we deprive ourselves of some of our usual comforts, where we find ourselves in a place where life looks and feels different and we are enabled to see things in a new way.  For others it will mean setting extra time aside to do something extra.

 

We live in strange times but the events over the last eleven months have shown that the Church can rise to the challenges of how it proclaims the Gospel in these rapidly changing times which has in many ways been a transformation.  Let us use this Lent to bring about a transformation in our own lives and a transformative presence in the lives of those with whom we seek to make Jesus presence known.   Just as the vaccine has brought new hope for many people in these depressing times, as we move through the discipline of Lent and Holy Week and the sufferings of Good Friday may we be transformed by the hope fulfilled in the message of the glorious resurrection of Easter Day.

 

Post Communion Prayer

Holy God,
we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ:
may we who are partakers at his table
reflect his life in word and deed,
that all the world may know his power to change and save.
This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above):

2 Corinthians 4.3-6 ©  1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton
2 Kings 2.1-12 ©  1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton
Mark 9.2-9 ©  1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton
Post Communion (Sunday next before Lent) ©  1985 Anglican Church of Canada: The Book of Alternative Services