In today’s sermon I am going to attempt to reflect upon the love of God, drawing upon today’s Gospel reading and the fact that today is St Valentine’s Day. This reflection will, I hope, offer reassurance and comfort to those who have suffered and are suffering from Covid and those who have lost loved ones in the pandemic.
Let me pick up on the expression ‘lost loved ones’. It is natural to believe that when someone you love dies, you have lost them because their earthly life has ended and you feel deeply and lament the loss of their presence in your life. Yet if we look at today’s Gospel reading we can say that the loss of presence on earth is not the end of the story. In this Transfiguration narrative there is the reappearance on the mountain of Elijah and Moses, both of whom had long since died and are now seen talking with Jesus. Elijah represents the Old Testament prophets who looked for the coming of the Messiah and Moses represents the law. When Jesus is transfigured on the mountain and his clothes become ‘dazzling white’ this is a manifestation of the glory of God triumphing over death. It is so because, although Jesus has not yet gone to his death, the Transfiguration reveals his post Resurrection glory yet to come. Jesus then goes on to let his disciples know that he will rise from the dead. This is all made possible by the voice of God from the cloud saying: ‘this is my Son, the Beloved’. This love of God, which defeats the power of death, is for us all to share in now and hereafter when the kingdom comes. All that is required of us is to have faith that God, the King of Love, our Shepherd is, whose goodness faileth never. We nothing lack if we are his and he is ours forever.
This faith will not diminish the pain and mourning at the loss of loved ones but it may help the sufferer to look beyond the valley of the shadow of death towards the light of the abiding love of God. Light as an expression of God’s love is often found throughout the Bible. We have just passed through Candlemas when Jesus was presented as a ‘light to lighten the Gentiles’. In Matthew’s Gospel, during the Transfiguration, Jesus’s face ‘shone like the sun’.
In Psalm 50, God ‘shines forth’ and this passage echoes the Transfiguration in calling to the heavens and to the earth to gather the faithful. Light is a common element shared by the three key moments of baptism, transfiguration and the Crucifixion. All this triumphs over the darkness of the valley of death.
So the light of love is there for us all. How else can love be expressed? Well, it can lift us up into a new dimension of being. In the wonderful painting by Raphael, the sixteenth century artist of the High Renaissance, Jesus is depicted in the Transfiguration as lifted up just above the mountain top. As a song written in 1982 expresses it: ‘love lifts us up where we belong, where the eagles cry on the mountain high’.
All that having been said, in today’s Gospel reading the three disciples Peter, James and John, who witness the Transfiguration are not transformed by the experience. At first Peter wishes to stay with Jesus and to make dwellings for him and Elijah and Moses but then as Jesus descends the mountain with them fear and confusion reign as they puzzle over what is meant by Jesus saying that he will rise from the dead. We do not have a definitive explanation of why Mark portrayed the disciples in this negative fashion. What we can say is that in spite of all their fears and uncertainties which we also experience in our daily lives, love continues and is given particular expression upon St Valentine’s Day. Legend has it that a third century early Christian priest named Valentine was the originator of this day. This legend reveals that before his martyrdom for looking after persecuted Christians, Valentine wrote a card in prison to the jailer’s daughter who he had cured of blindness, signing it ‘your Valentine’. This may be legend but there is no smoke without fire and from this legend has sprung centuries of expressions of love, from the courtly love of the High Middle Ages to the cards and flowers and chocolates given to lovers today.
One aspect of this legend that I love is that St Valentine brings on the spring and plants and flowers start to grow on his day. It gladdens the heart to see the emergence of the snowdrops, aconites and crocuses in our church garden. So as we battle against the pandemic let us hold this spring time in our hearts and remember that love never dies.