Sermon delivered on Quinquagesima Sunday, the 7th February 2016 by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban's Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands in the service of Holy Eucharist.

Scriptures: Exodus 34: 29-35 2 Cor 3:12 - 4:2 S. Luke 9: 28-43a

2 Corinthians 3: 18 “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another.”

Perseverance is a powerful gift, one that can be used for good or ill, and if it is to be used for good, having to contain an admixture of patience. A spiritual man was once asked why some Christians appeared to have the Holy Spirit more than others. His simple answer was “perseverance”. God’s gifts and graces are His grant or perhaps His loan to us, and they should not be taken for granted. In the New Testament the element of persistence in our walk with God is given great importance. The Lord Jesus teaches that although the Father is swift to hear the cry of His people, we are to persevere in prayer to Him. St. Paul also in Philippians tells us that the prize of the resurrection life is not be thought of as something that is obtained without engaging a race or contest. We are to run to obtain the prize, and running when you are exhausted requires a special form of perseverance. In every department of life it is generally understood that if you want the prize you must put in such work as to obtain it. Work is not the only element, because unguided work is futile and the prize is not provided by the work itself, more than what guides it to make it fruitful. Perseverance in the Christian walk is evidence for the faith that relies upon the Lord the Giver for the adequacy of His guidance and the abundance of His reward.

From the accounts of the Transfiguration from the three synoptic gospels we see a link between prayer, healing and the Transfiguration itself. St Luke tells us that it was Jesus’ intention to go up to the mountain to pray, taking with Him Peter, John and James. All of the three gospels make it clear that it was six or eight days after Jesus had taught that His Messiahship was heading towards rejection, the death of the cross, and resurrection. He had rebuked Peter then, for trying to persuade Him that this could not be so. This was the issue that Jesus and His disciples had very different perspectives about. It was the core issue that Jesus from that time repeatedly raised with his closest followers so that they could begin to share His mind and get prepared for what was to come. It appears that it was perhaps only S. John who at any level received a small sliver of this truth.

As He prayed, St Luke tells us, the appearance of His countenance was altered, and His clothing became dazzling white. The Lord and those who were with Him were in some way beyond our understanding given a foretaste of Resurrection. Moses and Elijah, two of the greatest Old Testament figures of faith spoke with Him. The Keswick Convention speaker this year pointed out that the presence of Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration declares to us that Moses really did enter the Promised Land after all, having failed to reach it in Old Testament times before his own death. The readings from Exodus and 2 Corinthians today tell of the kind of transfiguration that Moses in his lifetime had evidenced as the skin of his face shone when he conversed with God, and afterward to the people with God’s authority. Elijah’s departure from the earth had not been ordinary, and had been itself also a kind of transfiguration. My commentary suggests that in the Gospel Transfiguration the special illumination of Christ came from within Him, rather than from a source outside Him, such as Moses had experienced in his lifetime. Now as Moses and Elijah were parting from Jesus, the exhausted Peter tries to hold on to the experience by impulsive and unreflective words about making three tents for Jesus, Elijah and Moses to stay in. The voice of the Heavenly Father tells the disciples to listen to the chosen Son alone, after which the remarkable experience was ended. Then they came down from the mountain straight into a situation of a crowd and a controversy.

The remaining disciples had not been able to satisfy a distraught father who had brought his son to them for healing. According to St. Mark some scribes had taken advantage of the situation to put the disciples down before the crowd. Perhaps these disciples had been more interested in displaying their own power to heal, rather than the Lord’s power. Perhaps having failed to obtain a desired result, the disciples had not instructed the father to wait for Jesus to come and exercise His rule. In all three accounts, before healing the boy the Lord Jesus expresses His perspective of anguish over everything that prevents His followers from being faithful and effective, and a longing for the Resurrection state for which he is now more than ever prepared to enter. Afterwards when the disciples ask why they have not been able to cast out the demon, according to St Matthew it is because of their little faith, and in St Mark Jesus says only prayer, or prayer and fasting, can drive it out. They were lacking in perseverance.

The whole account taken together, then, links prayer, which is perseverance of faith in action, with both transfiguration, which is a foretaste of Resurrection, and healing. If we do not persevere with the Resurrection vision of the Lord, and with the Body of Christ, His Church, and with our particular role and ministry within it, we will not win the prize. Towards the end of his apostolic ministry St Paul could say “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown……which the Lord will award to me on that day…..and also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7f). Our hope of Resurrection lives or fades with our perseverance in faith or lack of it. Gifts of healing are also linked with faith and perseverance in the same way. The more we have persevered in asking for healing of all sorts in our corporate acts of intercession during the Eucharist, the more it becomes evident to us that the Lord has graciously honoured and answered our requests, and we have become more confident in the workings of His grace. And so, beholding the glory of the Lord (as St. Paul says) we are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another.

There is a further link between Resurrection and healing. To be healed, whether through the ministrations of doctors or in a divine sign is, like the Transfiguration, a foretaste of the Resurrection. But we should not forget that even the generally fittest of people do at some time in their life die, and in a real sense, any kind of getting well on this earth can never be a complete getting well. That has to wait for the Resurrection, in which physical sickness and death hold no power. Every healing is therefore a sign of the resurrection of the body, but until that resurrection it cannot be complete. We should always see healings, whether apparently complete or partial, as signs of the greater healing we look forward to and are here to prepare for. Having this perspective about healing I believe we will be properly instructed about the reality of God’s healing but preserved from an idolatrous dependence upon what we would like to think of as a complete healing. God may clear up a particular physical condition suddenly or over time, or He may leave a measure of it for His purposes, which are always good, to be fulfilled through it, as St Paul himself teaches us. For through St. Paul many were physically healed, yet he himself, he tells us in 2 Corinthians, was left with a “thorn in the flesh” of uncertain identity to us, to prove to him that God’s grace could prevail even in weakness.

Prayer and Anointing therefore can help us the more to look forward to what our Baptism into Christ promises us, the complete wholeness and glory of the Resurrection life. The Transfiguration of the Lord was a sign and foretaste of the Resurrection life; the same was and is true of His healings. Let us therefore also, during the approaching Lenten season, and persevering in the Christian walk to which we are pointed, behold the glory of the Lord, and be changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another.