Last Sunday of Epiphany – Transfiguration Sunday – Sunday 6th March 2011
Matthew 17: 1-9
The film take place at the end of the 1950’s in France and the scene is set by the narrator at the beginning of the film:
Once upon a time, there was a quiet little village in the French countryside, whose people believed in Tranquilité – Tranquility. If you lived in this village, you understood what was expected of you. You knew your place in the scheme of things. And if you happened to forget, someone would help remind you. In this village, if you saw something you weren’t supposed to see, you learned to look the other way. If perchance your hopes had been disappointed, you learned never to ask for more. So through good times and bad, famine and feast, the villagers held fast to their traditions. Until, one winter day, a sly wind blew in from the North…
Into this setting comes Vianne Rocher – who is anything but traditional. She does not go to church, has a daughter without a father present, and has the nerve to open a chocolaterie right in the middle of Lent! Vianne does nothing by the book. She does nothing out of obligation, but everything out of love. She has a major influence on the main characters of the story. It is her encouragement that brings a woman out of her abusive marriage. It is her encouragement that brings an elderly lady together with her grandson. It is her encouragement that brings a widow of 30-some-years out of mourning and into a new relationship. The town is transformed by her chocolaterie and her grace.
As Vianne goes about her daily life and helps those around her, the townspeople are soon influenced by her exuberance and – of course – her delicious chocolates – except for the Mayor, who is determined to shut her down. When a group of river drifters visit the town, Vianne teaches the townspeople something about acceptance.
Père Henri is the village Priest. In one of my favourite scenes of the film he stands to deliver his sermon. In a moment of fitting preparation for our season of Lent, he says:
I’m not sure what the theme of my homily today ought to be. Do I want to speak of the miracle of Our Lord’s divine transformation? Not really, no. I don’t want to talk about His divinity. I’d rather talk about His humanity. I mean, you know, how He lived His life, here on Earth. His kindness, His tolerance… Listen, here’s what I think. I think that we can’t go around… measuring our goodness by what we don’t do. By what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think… we’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create… and who we include.
Now why, you ask, have I gone to great lengths to spoil the film for those who haven’t watched it? Well, for me, it completely embodies this Sunday’s gospel reading.
The story of the transfiguration from Matthew is not an easy one to get to grips with. What angle should you take? What message lies at its heart? What was the point of this encounter on the mountain side?
We could debate these points long and hard – and frankly not find ourselves much further down the road of understanding.
But the point I want to get across to my congregation this Sunday is that our lives should be transformed, changed, and altered. And not just in some minimalist ways. We should be transfigured. We should take on the appearance of Jesus. We should take on the qualities of Jesus.
We should live life with grace and tranquillity. We should radiate love and kindness. We should be overflowing with exuberance and excitement. Because those are the very things that Jesus displayed. And they become the central qualities of the film Chocolat, lived out in the life of its main character Vianne, and eventually accepted and embraced by the villagers.
Too often, we focus our lives on those things we want to deny ourselves, to resist, to exclude. We live life as if it’s a funeral wake rather than a celebration. We are God’s creation. He has made us. He has made us to enjoy the good things of life. So we mustn’t abuse God’s gift. We mustn’t hide God’s gift. We mustn’t ignore God’s gift.
We must be transformed. We must be changed. We cannot look at the loving face of God and not take on his appearance, his countenance, his grace.
We must get alongside those who walk the journey with us, to share their pain, their sorrow, their frustrations, their joys, their happiness, their lives. To share something of our understanding of God’s love, and to learn lessons ourselves.
That and chocolate.