Although I have not read it, the opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’ (English novelist, 1812 – 1870) A Tale of Two Cities reads,
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
I thought about shortening the quote, but as an opening paragraph it is a single sentence. It is my understanding that A Tale of Two Cities is based on the cities of London and Paris and the transformation brought about in the political turmoil of the revolution. Indeed, I am comfortable to be corrected on that.
Dickens seems to be saying that out of the worst of times there is opportunity for improvements which lead to the best of times. The difference, of course, is whether or not we are willing to enter into the experience, as awful as it might be, and spend time reflecting upon what happened alone and with others.
Prior to the experience of Peter, James and John up on the mountain with Jesus, we have a few stories which are telling to what the Transfiguration of Jesus is all about: the story the disciples forgetting to bring bread with them, titled The Yeast and the Pharisees; (Mark 8:14-21) the story of Jesus having to pray twice to restore the sight of the Blind Man at Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26); the peoples’ understanding of Jesus’ identity and Peter’s own Declaration about Jesus as ‘the Messiah, the Son of the living God,’ (Mark 8:27-30) and then exposed by his response to Jesus Foretelling his Death and Resurrection (Mark 8:31-33). The understanding of the identity of Jesus is fundamental to Christian salvation, ‘Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father.’ (Mark 8:38)
All these stories are concerned with the discovery of the identity of Jesus and this discovery of this is a gradual process.
So we now visit The Transfiguration of our Lord on the mountain, prefixed by, ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’ (Mark 9:1) Perhaps there is something about the Kingdom of God in this event as well.
In as much as the Transfiguration is about Jesus being affirmed in his identity as the words from heaven heard at his baptism are now repeated, it is the disciples’ discovery about his identity that I want to focus on today.
There are two words in the Bible translated as ‘time’. The first, chronos), from which we get the word chronological, means measurable time, as we would know it from our clocks and watches, as well as the seasons of the year. The other is kairos, which is best described as a moment of discovery, one of those events that provides an opportunity to learn something; in the bible, a time where God is revealing himself.
For some such moments have been crisis, near death experiences, sudden, severe onset of illness, death of a significant other, a conflict with an important friend, a truthful but painful word from another, a word of encouragement, a generous gift, through reading scripture, a sermon (it was like you were speaking to me), in prayer, on spiritual retreat. I remember attending a Cursillo, a Diocesan retreat for lay people, and realising that I was indeed deeply loved by God. I could not stop crying, I was no longer the same, and I stopped trying to win God’s love. I didn’t have to anymore, I understood I was already, truly loved.
So Jesus takes three of the disciples, Peter, James and John, (it is no wonder they had the courage to approach Jesus and ask to sit at his left and right hand in the kingdom when they were so often singled out) up onto the mountain to pray. The event is as significant for these disciples as it was for Jesus. We are hearing it from their perspective.
While there, they witness Jesus clothing become dazzling white and Elijah and Moses appeared and talked with him. We are told that Peter spoke, not knowing what to say because he was afraid. I don’t want to dwell on the content of what he said, today. But note that despite being afraid, despite is fear, he said, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here.’ (Mark 9:5)
Sometimes it seems, that those moments when God breaks into our lives to reveal something of himself, and us, are those times when we would rather be somewhere else. As Dickens would have it, ‘the worst of times, the age of foolishness, the epoch of incredulity, the season of Darkness, the winter of despair, [when] we had nothing before us, [when] we were all going direct the other way [to hell], for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.’ In other words, what made it good or evil was what came out of it.
This does not mean that the means justifies the end, as some politicians will have it, but there will be times when we need to enter into those things we would rather run away from, that are unfamiliar, uncomfortable, even scary, in order to have the discovery.
In the Transfiguration, everything then becomes cloudy, and the voice from heaven is heard again, repeating the words at the baptism of Jesus, now with the addition, ‘listen to him!’ (Mark 9:7) The mist disperses and Jesus is alone with the disciples. These words were meant for the disciples; an affirmation of who Jesus is.
This is an ultimate kairos for the disciples. The kairos needs to be processed. This process of noting kairos and working it through with others is what discipleship is all about.
In our house groups we are introducing a model that enables this process. When we identify an experience that has significance in the life of a group member or the whole group, we can think through what God is revealing to the individual, or the group. What actually happened, how has this changed what we feel and think, what does the bible, others and our praying reveal about this, what do we believe now about God and our self, how are we going to act or behave now, and who will encourage us in doing it?
Kairos, God interventions in our lives, whether good experiences or difficult ones, are the essence of discipleship and opening our minds to other possibilities of thinking, that is a part of repentance, and placing our trust in that revelation of God we have discovered we call belief. So it is that God says ‘listen to Jesus’ and Peter, when recounting the event in his letter writes, ‘You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.’ (2 Peter 1:18-19) This is the role of our house groups and our truly being disciples.