Sermon given at LH & Orl 26.2.17 1 Before Lent
Readings: OT/Epistle 1 Peter 1: 16-21 Gospel Matthew 17: 1-9
Numbers in the bible are often used in a symbolic sense – they carry more meaning than just a numerical one. In today’s readings we have: “For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud” AND “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. “
In the bible, the Number 7 means Completion, perfection, rest
7th day of creation signified completion and rest
7 colours make a perfect spectrum and there are
7 colours in the rainbow
7 notes make a perfect scale
7th day was a Sabbath for Israel, a day of rest – French revolution instituted a 10 day week but it didn’t work!
7 weeks between Passover and Pentecost.
7 great land masses form the complete earth
7 great bodies of water form a complete ocean
7 covenants of God with man: Adamic, Noah, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Levitic, Davidic, Messianic
7 dispensations of God complete human history
7th year was a Sabbatical year, a year of rest.
7 Sabbatical years, was followed by the year of Jubilee.
7 days for the Feast of Passover
So let’s try an easy little quiz:
In the story of Noah how many days and nights did it rain?
How many days was Moses on Mount Sinai when he was given the law?
How many days did the spies spend in the land of Canaan?
How many years did the Israelites wander in the wildnerness?
How many days did Jesus fast in the wilderness?
How many days did Jesus teach his disciples after his Resurrection and before his Ascension?
We are also about to enter Lent which lasts for a period of 40 days.
The Number 40 means trials, probation, testing
Forty is the product of eight and five. Eight is the number of New Beginnings, while five is grace. So forty can be seen as entering grace after a period of trial and preparation which leads to the beginning of something new. Obviously, these are both factors in the cases of Israel and Jesus.
In addition to the ones we’ve just thought about, the number 40 occurs in the following stories:
40 years Moses was in the Egypt, 40 years in Midian, 40 years Moses served God
40 days Moses was on Mt. Sinai when he returned after breaking the tablets
40 days after his birth a male child was dedicated to God
40 year intervals of peace in the age of the Judges
40 years of war between Israel and the Philistines
40 years Saul ruled as King
40 years David ruled as King
40 years Solomon ruled as King
40 days Jonah was in Nineveh
40 years Josiah ruled Judah
40 days Ezekiel lay on his right side to symbolize the
40 years of Judah’s transgressions
It’s highly unlikely that these events literally lasted 40 days or years – but it’s really powerful way of conveying meaning!! So whenever you read the number 40 in the bible you can be pretty sure it’s talking about a period of preparation and learning that’s needed before we can properly embark on something new.
But I don’t think the learning necessarily finishes at the end of the period of preparation. Think for instance of a car driver or aeroplane pilot – they need to learn all the basic skills and pass a test before we trust them to drive or fly on their own and with other passengers on board. But does their learning end when they pass the test? Of course not!
Jesus kept appearing to his disciples and teaching them for 40 days after his resurrection – but we know from the book of Acts that that was just the beginning of their learning – they’d learned enough to launch the church but they still had lots more to learn about how to live and worship as Christians without Jesus’s physical presence but with the power of the Holy Spirit instead.
And so Lent is meant to be like that for us too. We don’t just become Christians and that’s it! The biggest and most important Christian festival is Easter – it’s a huge mystery that we spend the rest of our life exploring and learning from.
Every 7th day in our week is Sunday – well actually it’s the 1st day in the Hebrew week and the first Christians chose it as their holy week to signify not only the day of rest that God commanded but also the new beginning that Easter signifies – so every Sunday is a day of festival and rejoicing.
So Lent DOES NOT include Sundays – beginning at Ash Wednesday and ending with Easter Saturday there are 46 days – so we are not meant to deny ourselves of anything we’ve given up on the 6 Sundays during Lent!! Which means you can all enjoy Mothering Sunday with clear consciences!
Lent is intended as an annual time of reflection and learning to help us grow in our faith and the way we live as Christians – it should be a positive thing that creates the conditions in which we have a greater chance of seeing Jesus more clearly and understanding him better – as happened to Peter James & John at the Transfiguration on the 7th day when for a brief moment the curtain of mystery was drawn back to give them a glimpse into who Jesus is and what he does for us – to see what being the Christ meant – to see the completion and the perfection of his role.
So whatever we choose to do this Lent – let’s make sure it’s something to help us think about Jesus and about the way he wants each of us to live as a Christian, a follower of CHRIST. So we can move on into a new stage of our faith journey that leads us ever onwards towards completion and perfection and rest! For the ultimate 7th day is when we see God face to face at last.