St Mary’s, Puddletown
Sunday 11th February 2018
2 Corinthians 4.3-6; Mark 9.2-9
This past week the suffragettes and suffragists have been widely hailed as heroines as the centenary of the first Representation of the People’s Act was marked on Tuesday. They are celebrated widely as those who made it possible for women to vote. But the celebrations have been somewhat airbrushed.
The victory for those in favour of women’s votes 100 years ago was only a partial one, since the only women who gained the vote were those over the age of 30 and who owned property. A far better position then the previous one but all the same a partial one.
As the Pankhursts and their friends are honoured, we need to remember that the battle was won not only for some women but also for all men over the age of 21, since suffrage for them had also been related to property ownership.
Before the First World War only about 60% men were allowed to vote, and yet every man was called upon to fight for his country. After 1918 all men over the age of 21 were included in the electoral registers. It was only 10 years later that this privilege was extended to women too; the following year women made up 52.7% of the electorate.
I hope all of us here use our votes wisely when we have the opportunity. We are fortunate in this country, whatever we think of our politicians, that we do have the opportunity to hold them to account fairly regularly.
I think it is sad that many people these days feel disenfranchised and as if their vote won’t make any difference, which has led to a large drop off in the percentage of voters who turn out at elections, though this has risen again since the nadir of 2001. We dishonour the memory of those who worked so hard for this freedom if we fail to do so.
At the time of their campaigns, the suffragists and in particular the suffragettes met quite a lot of opposition but no one today questions whether women or all men should be allowed to vote.
Today these women and the men who supported them are hailed as heroines and heroes but at the time they experienced a lot of pain: force feeding, imprisonments, humiliation, brutality, being disowned by their families and so on. Not that their own behaviour was always good or right, and they did break the law, but that aside they were treated very badly.
To achieve their goal they experienced much hardship. There are many others throughout history who are glorified now but who were vilified at the time of their lives: Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, abolitionists, and so on.
In today’s reading we see Jesus glorified, but we mustn’t forget that this comes six days after he time with his disciples telling them that he would be rejected and even killed. When Peter rebuked him for saying these things, he was rebuked himself by Jesus and accused of thinking about things in an earthly way not a divine one.
For Jesus, as for so many people, glory could only come after pain.
The Transfiguration cannot be separated from the prediction that comes before. Glory goes hand in hand with suffering for Jesus. In true glory there is always a cost. This part of Mark’s Gospel marks the pivot, these latter chapters when the story slows the action always pointing forward to Jerusalem and what is to happen there.
I wonder how we hold together our mountain-top moments of elation with our deep valleys of suffering.
It’s a very odd person who wants to suffer, and yet without suffering is there perhaps a risk that other things will disappear too – compassion, care, generosity and so on.
If no one suffers, then there is no need for any of these things. And what does light mean if there is no darkness? Or joy if there is no sadness? Or hope if there is no possibility of despair? Do these qualities become meaningless for the human being?
Aldous Huxley attempted to look at some of these questions in his Brave New World. John the Savage comes across a world where everything is controlled and no one is ostensibly unhappy. But he notices that art and freedom are sorely lacking.
The Controller says: "Civilisation has absolutely no need of nobility or heroism. These things are symptoms of political inefficiency. In a properly organised society like ours, nobody has any opportunities for being noble or heroic.
“Conditions have got to be thoroughly unstable before the occasion can arise. Where there are wars, where there are divided allegiances, where there are temptations to be resisted, objects of love to be fought for or defended – there, obviously, nobility and heroism have some sense. But there aren't any wars nowadays. The greatest care is taken to prevent you from loving any one too much.”
“The Savage nodded, frowning. "You got rid of them. Yes, that's just like you. Getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it. Whether 'tis better in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them. . . But you don't do either. Neither suffer nor oppose. You just abolish the slings and arrows. It's too easy."
"What you need," the Savage went on, "is something with tears for a change. Nothing costs enough here.”
“We don't [like inconveniences}," said the Controller. "We prefer to do things comfortably."
"But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."
"In fact," said Mustapha Mond, "you're claiming the right to be unhappy."
"All right then," said the Savage defiantly, "I'm claiming the right to be unhappy."
"Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen to-morrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind." There was a long silence.
"I claim them all," said the Savage at last.
Mustapha Mond shrugged his shoulders. 'You're welcome,' he said.”
John the Savage wanted some form of real life, and for him that included suffering. Jesus lived a real life – a fully human one, which involved suffering. In giving freedom to human beings, God gives us the responsibility of making choices, something that is removed from the beings of Brave New World.
The mountain-top experiences only have meaning, if there is something that is other than the mountain-top.
One day we believe all will be transformed, but just how that will work we don’t know. Six days before the transfiguration, the disciples’ hope was challenged by Jesus’s predictions; here he is somehow indicating that the glory can come only after the suffering, a suffering that he himself will endure.
Of course at the time when he was speaking to them, they didn’t know what we do – that Jesus really would be crucified and that they would see him again after the resurrection.
I wonder what state his prediction of rejection and death had left them in. and then six days later, on the seventh day, the day of completion and rest and refreshment and re-creation, they get a glimpse of the glory that is to come.
What the suffragettes can remind us is that people with a passion for a cause can change the world. They call us to notice that perseverance did, in the end, win the day, not just for women but also for the working-class, unpropertied men of the time.
They are an example to all of us that working for issues of justice can bring people on the side of right together, regardless of their background.
They remind us that sometimes we need to be bold and courageous in standing up for what we believe in.
The suffragists cause took a long while to gain public support, and there were groups fiercely opposed to them, including ones such as the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League and the Men’s National League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage. They persevered in the face of deep opposition.
Christianity is not popular in our country at the moment. But we Christians don’t always help our cause. We are often not confident or bold in our faith. Too often the message that Christians give is one of judgement on others, rather than the positive message that Jesus brought.
Too many of us would never be willing to suffer for our faith. And yet worldwide many people have followed and still do follow the example of their Saviour: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?
“Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
As Jesus revealed at the transfiguration, the word of St Paul ring true: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us”