Today our Gospel story takes us up a mountain with Jesus and his companions--Peter, James and John. There, Jesus was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun and his clothing became dazzling white. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah were talking to him. Peter wanted to make three dwellings to hold onto this amazing moment. As he spoke, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them and a voice said, "This is my beloved son, with him I am well pleased. Listen to him.” Overcome with fear, the three disciples fell to the ground. "Get up, do not be afraid!" Jesus said. And they were alone with him.
Have you ever gone mountain climbing or hiked to some high place?
I climbed Mt. Elinor in the Olympic range years ago, and it's still one of my favorite stories. I was with a family group camping at Hoodsport, two persons had done the Mt. Elinor climb and knew the way, so off we went. Now, trail guide books rate this climb as an easy day hike. Well, being a novice climber I was soon thinking, it's not that easy. It was doable, but strenuous. As a short legged person I frequently needed to climb steep rocky stretches on hands and knees. But we all made it to the top, the summit, elevation approximately 5900 feet. It was awesome, the fog had burned off, the sun came out revealing the brilliant blue sky and you could see in all directions for miles and miles. Another hiker came along and pointed out a light colored round shape far below and said, “you're looking at the Tacoma Dome!". Wow! We munched on snacks, snapped some photos for evidence, but mostly we just sat there soaking in the glorious beauty of that place, breathing the crisp, fresh air knowing the holiness of being there.
You don't need to climb a mountain to experience glorious moments. You may find them gazing into the face of a baby, laughing with a friend, listening to Handel's Hallelujah Chorus, or children singing Jesus Loves Me. Glorious moments touch our heart and soul lifting our spirits closer to God.
Why did Jesus take his three friends to this high place? We don't know for sure since scripture gives no explanation. I don't believe they went only to enjoy the view. Scripture does tell us however, in the passage preceding today's reading, that Jesus stunned his disciples by saying he will soon have to go to Jerusalem, suffer many things, be killed and then be raised from the dead. Peter couldn't bear to consider these possibilities and he cries out, "God, forbid it Lord." Jesus replies, "Get behind me, Satan, you're not looking at things as God does."
I wonder, then, if it was necessary for the four of them--Jesus, Peter, James and John, to take time away, to go to a place where they could open themselves to the presence of God. And I wonder if this event wasn't more than they ever could have imagined.
They saw Jesus changed by the divine glory and power of God. The disciples knew their ancestors story of Moses on Mt.Sinai receiving the commandments amidst cloud, fire, and trumpet blast. They had heard of the prophet Elijah ascending to heaven in a whirlwind of horses and fire. They remembered that a wondrous star had shone on Jesus' birth place. They knew God's voice had been heard at Jesus' baptism and they heard again those same words with their very own ears. "This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well please, listen to him."
He wasn't seeking any special signs of glory for himself; this moment was shared with his closest friends. As they beheld the glory of his shining face he turned to them and touched them saying, "be not afraid."
In only three days on Ash Wednesday, we begin our Lenten journey, we walk the way of the cross remembering again Jesus suffering and death. There will be no Alleluias during Lent, but every step of the way brings us closer to the celebration of Easter.
As we turned our backs on that breath taking scene in the Olympics our weary legs carried us back down to camp. We would soon pack up and return home to our ordinary sometimes mundane lives. But we hold the memory of that adventure drawing strength from meeting the challenge of the climb and feeling the joy of being together as we all made it to the top.
Jesus and his friends turned from the glory of that mountain top to face what lay ahead, the completion of Jesus' ministry and the road to Jerusalem. Surely the glory of the transfiguration remained indelibly fixed in the disciples minds, as well as the clearly audible voice of God. "This is my beloved son, listen to him."
The road that lies ahead is treacherous, it will demand their all. Perhaps that glimpse of glory gave them the much needed strength for the journey. The disciples and Jesus came down from the mountain to the bottom of the valley. A crowd of people had gathered and they were met by a desperate father whose son suffered from seizures. He begged Jesus to heal him.
Then from the crowd came the question of whether they were obligated to pay the temple taxes. So it was business as usual in the everyday world of that long ago time.
I like this quotation by the Scottish theologian, Henry Drummond. He said God does not make the mountains in order to be inhabited. It is not God's desire that we live on the mountaintops. We only ascend to the height to catch a broader vision of the earthly surroundings below. But we don't live there. The streams begin in the uplands then descend quickly to gladden the valleys below.
Of course we experience the valleys of life. We know what happens the next day after we come home from the mountain--it's the real world and real life! Unpack the camping gear, do the laundry and get back to school or work the next day.
I believe that God is with us not only in the mountaintop times but in the valleys too. We know what it's like with a serious illness or death in the family. We know what it's like to struggle with financial uncertainties. We know what it's like to have days when everything falls apart.
The mountain tops are God's gift to us, they show us the precious quality of our world. These views strengthen our Christian path and encourage us in the hard times we inevitably face. God is in the valleys, in real life, where we the people of God live most of the time.
So the next time you experience a mountaintop moment take in the view and receive it as a gift from God; let it speak to you. And on the way down, remember you can take that gift with you. You can bring your experience of God down with you and share it with others. Thanks be to God. AMEN