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Preacher: Canon Maggie McLean, Canon Missioner
Date: 6 August 2023, Feast of Transfiguration
May I speak in the name of the blessed Trinity. One God in three persons.
One of the delights of my job is overhearing some of our guided tours.
It’s lovely to hear the passion and knowledge of the people sharing with others the story of this building.
I imagine that it’s hard to keep it brief, because there is so much to see and so much to say.
But in all the tours I’ve heard, and the fascinating facts about the Minster, I’ve never heard anyone say how many doors there are. And there are a lot.
From doors as grand as those at the West End, to doors that are so low you need to duck your head to get through. Well, OK, I don’t need to duck my head – but other people do.
And I think that all these doors are important. Because the purpose of the Minster isn’t to contain God.
In our Gospel this morning it’s the mistake the disciples make.
In a moment when they see the overwhelming glory of God – a brilliant, dazzling revelation – they want to hang on to all that splendour.
They want to build dwellings, places to keep this precious moment and house Jesus, Moses and Elijah.
Just imagine what that would have meant for these disciples. Jesus and the two great figures of the Jewish religion.
But that revelation couldn’t be housed.
The dazzling brightness was a glimpse of Jesus shot through with the glory that was still to come.
Mountain tops were often seen as thin places.
In the universe as it was understood in the days of the Bible, getting up high brought you nearer to heaven.
In this story of transfiguration it’s as if the peak has pierced the heavens and – for a brief moment – the full glory of heaven shines in and through the person of Jesus.
The Minster was built to be this kind of place of meeting. Not up on a mountain, but a mountain of stone in the heart of the city. A sacred place where we might glimpse something of the splendour of heaven.
Some years ago in a modest parish church we were meeting for a mid-week service of Holy Communion. There weren’t many people there, but it was something we did faithfully every week. Shared communion together and prayed for the parish.
During the service a young man came into the service and just sat there looking and listening.
Afterwards we spoke, and it was clear he was having some difficulties, and we made sure he got the help that he needed. But he also said that he’d come to the service ‘to see what heaven was like’.
It seemed a very startling thing to say – and I think the congregation would have been humbled by the idea that this small weekday service was a taste of heaven – but of course it was: and it is.
I’m glad that York Minster has a lot of doors (even if I don’t know quite how many). Because at its best every church is a place where we seek to experience heaven.
In all the wonder of our worship, not least in our music, we elevate the soul to find in this spiritual mountain a moment of brilliance and splendour.
To clear the way for the God who always longs to meet us; to forgive us; to heal us; to inspire us; and to love us into the Kingdom.
The doors let us in – and they let us out.
In all its glory the Minster isn’t a place to remain.
The experience the disciples had with Jesus on the mountain top didn’t become some kind of holy community of special dwellings. A town of saints. They came down from the mountain and went on their way.
If our worship lifts up our spirits, it also sends us on our way. Because the fulness of glory – the glory we glimpse here – is still to come.
It’s the Kingdom we pray for every time we begin to say the words ‘Our Father’.
And this service is full of signs and possibilities, words that point us out into the world – to serve God in one another and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
As we go out through these doors, we take with us a glimpse of that glory and try to offer our life to work for that peace which God alone can give.
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