Under a cloud, again

I stood yesterday morning on the balcony of my hotel bedroom down by the beach of the Sea of Galilee in Tiberius.  I had made sure that I was up in time to watch the sunrise.  Gradually the sky lightened and then pink rays began to stretch into the pale blue sky, rays which deepened in intensity until light flooded from the sun which emerged from behind the hills.  It was almost a cloudless sky, except there was one sliver of cloud just where sunrise was happening.  But that cloud was captured by the colour of the new day, it turned red, brilliant red from the brilliant redness of the sun.


The first hints of sunrise over the Sea of Galilee


As children we sang

Red sky at night, shepherds’ delight.
Red sky in the morning, shepherds’ warning.

Was I being warned of something, alerted to something? In fact the cloud burnt away and the rest of the day was almost cloudless.  But perhaps the friendly warning was something that I was being given, the one that Gerard Manley Hopkins paints for us with words when he writes

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

The poem, called ‘Pied Beauty’ ends with these words

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Today we are climbing a mount that was once shrouded in cloud when God fathered-forth and revealed the divine beauty that was in Jesus.  We are visiting Mount Tabor on this third Diocesan Pilgrimage which I am jointly leading with Bishop Christopher Chessun, the Bishop of Southwark.  In many ways this ascent of the mount will be something of a climax to the journey that we have been making.  It began a week ago when we flew to Israel and began our eight day journey in Jerusalem. Having visited all the holy sites there we then made the journey to Galilee, hence being in a hotel in Tiberius.

The Transfiguration of the Lord is the event that, perhaps, happened on Mount Tabor.  The gospels aren’t specific about where it happened but the synoptic gospels and the Second Letter of St Peter are clear that it did happen and that it became a fulcrum point in the journey that they were on, turning from Galilee to Jerusalem, from the lakeside ministry to the passion. Peter writes

[Jesus] received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1.17-18)

The inner-circle of disciples, Peter, James and John, were there and they witnessed the descent of the cloud which took Jesus from their sight.  But when they saw him he was bathed in divine light, white, shining, brighter than they could imagined.  The cloud was shot through with the glory of God, with ‘the grandeur of God’ to use other words of Hopkins.


A dark cloud hanging


Before I left the Cathedral to come on pilgrimage I was standing in the chancel with a colleague, looking at the cloud that is suspended in the nave for the duration of Lent.  Our Lent art installation by Susie MacMurray is called ‘Doubt’ but it does bring to mind all those other clouds that we encounter in the scriptures, such as on the Mount of the Transfiguration.  As we stood there we asked each other a question I hadn’t really thought about until then – ‘What colour do you imagine the clouds in the Bible to be?’ The cloud we have is deepest black, the kind you see that presages bad weather, a storm.  But what colour was the cloud that descended on Mount Tabor, for instance, what was the colour of the cloud that descended on Moses on Mount Sinai? Well, that one was perhaps dark, because, after all, scripture tells us that it threw out lightening and thunder.  But this one I’ve always imagined as bright, not dark.  The clouds at the crucifixion – well they must have been black.  The clouds at the ascension – well they must have been white.

But whatever the colour of the cloud, like my morning experience on the shore of the Sea of Galilee they were dappled with divine presence, coloured by God, ‘whose beauty is past change’.

Whatever the colour of the cloud that is hanging over us, whatever the colour of the cloud that we are under, whatever cloud is currently suspended over you, we should be expecting the cloud to change as God’s glory is revealed, even in the darkest cloud.

Glorious God,
shine through the cloud
and make your dappled beauty known.

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