Rev. Andrew Cunnington
7th August 2016
My Life Lost in His Gospel

They were terrified. They were half asleep. They kept their distance. They did not breathe a word of it to anyone. Peter, James and John as always letting the side down!

Confronted this morning by the glory of God shining through Jesus, they cannot draw close to it, they cannot receive it for themselves, and so really, they stay away.

And it was not just then, but at many other times too.

Easter morning by the empty tomb, the darkness of Gethsemane, on the road with Jesus or in the city with Him, this was absolutely typical of the response of any of the disciples when something important seemed to be taking place. AWOL.

So I have in this past week been in search of the lost relic of St Matthew. My sudden discovery that the cathedral church in Salerno in Italy was not only named after our patron saint but that his relic is purported to be there, gave a fresh impetus to a holiday last week that was supposed to be all about family wedding planning.

Salerno is a great place, bustling with life, full of people. Wonderful coastline. Beautiful gardens. Great shops and eating places. In comparison to which the cathedral church of St Matthew was somewhat spartan.

Hardly any visitors on the day we went. The church is huge and quite bare, only the sanctuary areas twinkling with colour and light. But down in the deserted crypt something wonderful Covering the walls and the ceilings and the arches, story after story from Matthew’s Gospel in art and down some further steps, the quietest of chapels where you can look through to a tiny box wherein, the relic of the saint may or may not lie.

The story is that the relic was brought here in the year 1078 along with other less known saints and the vast cathedral was built up around it in the years that followed. It was good to stand in that place and pray for our St Matthew’s and find a continuity between Salerno city and Redhill town. Unpretentious havens of peace, where God might be found, if you have the inclination to turn aside from the bustle.

There is not much about St Matthew to reflect upon really.

It struck me that he is buried inside His Gospel. That it was not Matthew’s life or death or remains that were important, but rather the Gospel he shared as a result of walking and talking and living with Our Lord. If there is any glory for our saint, it is only found in this.

The Transfiguration then, is not just about standing back and being amazed at something that happened to Jesus, but it is rather about us bucking the trend of those first disciples and not going AWOL when confronted with it.

Allowing our lives, like Matthew’s, to be buried away in the Gospel we live.

The wall and ceiling paintings in the crypt depicted some of the stories that would have struck Matthew as important as he was called away from the tax booth to follow Jesus.

The stilling of the storm…I will not be afraid now.

The woman caught in the act of adultery….I will not condemn others because I know my own need of forgiveness.

The overturning of the tables of the moneychangers ..I will not put my whole trust in the commercial world any more.

The feeding of the Five thousand and the last Supper…I know that all I need for nourishment can be found in him.

To the back drop of my various times away in the last month there has been so much unsettling news. Political wrangling. Economic uncertainty. Acts of violence and terrorism that have been brought even to the altars of a Christian church and one of its Priests.

“Terror alert in British Churches” screamed the Daily Mail on one morning.

It strikes me that our lives are full of choices we might make, and the practice of our faith lines up against other competing priorities. It can be central to the way we are, or it can be a nice little bolt on, a maybe, a feel good factor to charm us at festivals, and I found myself saying, for myself, this can no longer be.

That faith and only faith, offers anything that lasts.

That faith and only faith can offer hope and purpose to life.

And that for us, that faith is anchored in the Gospel. There is no other way worthy of following.

So looking back on the feast of the transfiguration, as we do today, I realise that it is as much about me as it is about Jesus.

That my response to the glory of God on one hand, and the evil of humanity on the other is not to be terrified, not to keep my distance, not to give it only half my attention, not to remain silent, but let the stories of Jesus overlay me, dominate me, shape me, like scenes from the Gospels surrounding the hidden relic of St Matthew.

It’s not Matthew you find in the crypt at Salerno, it’s the Gospel of Jesus.

It’s not ourselves we present to the world, but ourselves shining with his presence. His Gospel, the only story we have to share.

I was drawn to the final verse in our Epistle reading where Peter, who was present on the mountain, writes this “ 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 heart.”

What can this beautiful verse mean? I found myself thinking that the star which rose and hovered over the birthplace of Jesus and signalled his coming amongst us in a single body, that now, that same star rises in our hearts, because he is born in our body too. Bethlehem is inside yourself.

Scenes from the Gospels overlaying our lives. Our lives buried in his life. A light from within that is the start of our transfiguring.

You don’t have to go to the top of any mountain to experience the transfiguration.

You don’t have to go down to any cathedral crypt an encounter the remains of a saint.

You simply have to allow your life to be overlaid by the Gospel and that means walking into the light rather than cowering at a distance – in fear of the glory.

2 PETER 1:16-19 LUKE 9:28-36