2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
How did we get here so fast? Everything seemed to just fly by. Wasn’t it just a few days ago that we were reading of the birth of a child? Wasn’t it just awhile ago that Jesus was beginning his ministry and calling the disciples to journey with him? In the big scheme of things, we’ve gotten to this point pretty fast. Here it is—a child born into anonymous poverty and raised by no-name peasants turns out to be the Son of God. He grows up, becomes a teacher, a healer, and capable of hosting large groups of people with just a small amount of leftovers. Then he asks a handful of people to become his followers, to help him in his mission. They leave everything they have, give up their possessions and their way of making a living, they sacrifice any shred of life security that they might have had, and begin to follow this person around, probably often wondering what in the world they were doing. And we’ve essentially read through all of this in a matter of a few months since early December. And then one day, Jesus leads them up to a mountain, away from the interruptions of the world.
Now, this is sort of interesting. There is no proof of an actual geographically-charted mountain. It is presented as if it just rose up, uninterrupted, from the terrain, as if it is rather a part of the topography of God. Even for people, such as myself, who cannot claim a single, stand alone, so-called “mountain-top experience” that brought them to Christ but rather came year by year and grew into the relationship…even for us…this IS the mountain-top experience. And there, on that mountain, everything changes. The clothes that Jesus was wearing change, taking on a hue of dazzling, blinding, white, whiter than anything that they had ever seen before. And on the mountain appeared Elijah and Moses, representing the Law and the prophets, the forerunners of our faith, standing there with Jesus. Peter wanted to build three dwellings to house them. For me, that’s sort of an interesting part of the story. Dwellings…I guess because that would keep them here, essentially bound to our way of living. Dwellings…to control where they were. Dwellings…to somehow put this incredible thing that had happened into something that made sense, to bring it into the light of the world where we could understand it. But, instead, they are veiled by a cloud and from the cloud comes a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!” “Listen to him!” And then they were gone and Jesus stood there alone.
The account of the Transfiguration of Jesus seems to us that it should be the climax of the Jesus story. After all, how can you top it—Old Testament heroes appearing, God speaking from the cloud, and Jesus all lit up so brightly that it is hard for us to look at him. But there’s a reason that we read this at this point. In some ways, it is perhaps the climax of Jesus’ earthly journey. Jesus tells the disciples to keep what happened to themselves, if only for now. This is the ultimate in thin places, those places of liminality, “betwixt and between” what is and what will be, those places that if we dare to enter, we experience that glimpse of the sacred and the holy. The light is so bright it is blinding. God’s glory is so pervasive that we cannot help but encounter it. And these Old Testament characters? They show us that this is not a one-time “mountain-top” experience. It is part of life; it is part of history; it is part of humanity. Rather than everything of this world being left behind in this moment, it is all swept into being. It all becomes part of the glory of God.
And then the lights dim. There are no chariots, Moses and Elijah are gone, and, if only for awhile, God stops talking. And in the silence, Jesus starts walking down the mountain toward Jerusalem. From our vantage point, we know what happens there. And he asks us to follow and gives us all the portions we need to do just that. And we can. Because now we see the way to go. Let us now go to Jerusalem and see this thing that has happened.
The journey to Bethlehem was much more to my liking. I am content kneeling here, where there’s an aura of angels and the ever-present procession of shepherds and of kings who’ve come to kneel to the Newborn to whom we are newborn. I want to linger here in Bethlehem in joy and celebration, knowing once I set my feet toward Jerusalem, the Child will grow, and I will be asked to follow. The time of Light and Angels is drawing to a close. Just when I’ve settled contentedly into the quiet wonder of Star and Child, He bids me leave and follow. How can I be expected to go back into darkness after sitting mangerside, bathed in such Light? It’s hard to get away this time of year; I don’t know how I’ll manage. It’s not just the time…the conversation along the way turns from Birth to Death. I’m not sure I can stand the stress and pain; I have enough of those already. Besides, I’ve found the lighting on the road to Jerusalem is very poor. This time around, there is no Star…
The shepherds have left; they’ve returned to hillside and to sheep. The Magi, too, have gone, having been warned in a dream, as was Joseph, who packed up his family and fled. If I stay in Bethlehem, I stay alone. God has gone on toward Jerusalem. (“Looking Toward Jerusalem”, from Kneeling in Jerusalem, by Ann Weems, p. 14-15.)
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9: 23b)
Grace and Peace,