In the coming week we will start Lent. This year we are taking the theme of Lament .. what we can learn from the Bible about our experiences of despair and forsakenness in life. I want to explore the possibility that in order to know God and God’s plans we need to go through certain experiences which can be painful and sorrowful.
Consider the Bible passages that we have read this morning (Exodus 24 v 12-18 and Matthew 17 v 1-13) . They are about receiving God’s word and indeed being in God’s presence. Moses is called to climb the mountain in order to receive the Commandments from God. Jesus climbs the mountain to be Transfigured and to meet with Moses and Elijah. It seems then that in order to meet with God and to hear God’s word we need to go through certain experiences. God does not simply speak without reference to our experience. We are being called to encounter God, to meet with God, in the struggle of life. Let us consider this a little more practically in relation to suffering.
The Church of England devotional resources for this Lent begins with a quotation from the Archbishop of Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Archbishop writes: ‘there are things that can be seen only with eyes that have cried’
I wonder if you would agree with that statement. It comes out of his experience of war in the Congo. An experience full of cruel violence and tragic suffering not least amongst children. But we can perhaps all relate to the statement at some level. There are things which ‘can only be seen with eyes that have cried’.
I suppose at the heart of this observation is the message that it is not only the thing seen but also the eye of the beholder which gives what we see it’s meaning. It is the idea that 2 or 3 or 20 or 30 people can behold the same thing and yet all see something different within it. Because what we bring to the vision is as important as what is being viewed.
This is the message of the 10 commandments and of the transfiguration being given up the mountain. That fact that Moses was called to climb the mountain in order to receive the commands is of significance. The fact that Jesus was transfigured on the mountain is important. Because what you see at the top of a mountain is somehow influenced by the climb you have to make to get there.
This phenomenon is seen at the top of Snowdon. You can of course either walk up Snowdon or get the train. And the way in which you travel I would say has an impact on the perspective you have when you reach the top. Only those who have climbed the mountain see the view in a particular way .. with a particular beauty .. because of the climb which they have made. So although both travellers, either by the Mountain Railway or on foot, stand at the same viewing point and see the same view .. they do so with very different eyes.
This is the very same message that Archbishop is making us aware of when he says ‘there are things that can be seen only with eyes that have cried’. Only those who have seen pain can see the world as God see’s it!
It is why we are called to fully engage with lament this Lent. Because acknowledging our experience of pain and grief and loss and despair is important to seeing the world as God sees it. Indeed it is only through eyes of tears that we truly see God. Our tears, our journey, transforms us. It is through shedding the tears and making the climb that we fully appreciate the view.
I invite you this Lent to consider how we can accept the tears that we cry in this world as the means by which we are transformed to encounter God. We with Christ can know both the pain of the climb and the glory of the summit if we embrace both in our lives.