Well, here we are in the final Sunday before Lent; just a few days to go before Ash Wednesday.
This time next week the vestments, altar frontals and even the stand that I am preaching on will be purple. If you can remember, last time everything was purple was in Advent: a penitential season in preparation for the good news of Christmas. This season of Lent will also be a penitential season as we prepare for the good news of Easter. As I said last week, penitential seasons like Lent are often a time for fasting (of giving up certain foods) as a symbol of repentance. But why do something symbolic when you can do the real thing?
As some of you already know, my fellowship group is using the Ten Commandments as an aid for Lent. We meet together to support each other, learn more about God and pray for each other. If you would like to be part of such a group, you have only to ask.
In our reading today we have the account of the transfiguration according to Mark. ‘What has this to do with Lent?’ you might think. The answer lies in some subtle clues that Mark has woven into his narrative.
In these verses Jesus is presented as the divine example that ought to provoke and inspire our repentance. Jesus is the target our penitence ought to be aimed towards. In Jesus we find a way of life that is blessed and pleasing to God. In Jesus we see the sort of person God wishes us to be.
In our reading, there are echoes of the Ten Commandments and the actions of Moses in the transfiguration of Jesus.
Just as the Ten Commandments were given from the mountaintop as a rule to follow, so Jesus was revealed from the top of a mountain as a living, breathing rule of life.
When Moses returned from his meeting with God, his face was radiant. When Jesus was transfigured his clothes became radiant.
The light from Moses’ face shone as a reflection of God’s glory. Jesus’ radiance emanated from within himself.
In Moses, rays of light showed the evidence of his encounter with the divine; in Jesus the brightness showed the evidence that he himself is divine. Jesus’ divine radiance came from within.
Just as the commandments were given special importance for being spoken by God himself, so Jesus is given special importance as God himself says ‘This is my beloved son; listen to him.’ This short sentence sums up the new obligations of the New Testament: look to Jesus and listen to him. In Lent, whatever we decide to do, this must be the foundation; listen to Jesus.
This focus on Jesus is not to say that the Ten Commandments are now obsolete. They still function as an aid to living in a way that is pleasing to God.
As we heard at the beginning of our service, Jesus highlights the commandments to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Within those commands, the Ten Commandments can be a helpful way of adding detail.
If we claim to love God we must not have any other gods before him, nor worship carved images, nor take his name in vain and we must set aside time to honour and worship him.
Moreover, if we wish to love our neighbours as ourselves we must honour parents, refrain from murder (or even the anger that leads to murder), not commit adultery (or even the lustful intent that leads to adultery); we must not steal, lie about others, or covet their possessions.
It doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to say that keeping the Ten Commandments is a good, practical way of loving God and neighbour – of fulfilling the commands Jesus himself models and endorses.
Now, to be sure, our keeping of God’s commandments is not the basis on which we are accepted by God. The Ten Commandments came after God released his people from slavery. In the same way, our new way of life follows Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross. We are still saved by grace through faith. But now that we are saved, accepted and secure, we have a new and better way to live.
So Jesus is the living example of what way of life God intends for us. Like the Ten Commandments given in times past, Jesus is the foundation on which we must build our lives. The commandments may not be the way of salvation as faith in Christ is, but they are still approved by him and are part of what it means to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
This Lent I pray that God would reveal to your heart and mind what it is he wants you to do, that he gives you the strength to do it, that your soul may one day may be made whiter than snow. In Jesus name, amen.