The trudge up the mountain can be exhausting. After feeding four thousand people, witnessing Jesus open the eyes of a blind man, a startling recognition of Jesus as Messiah, and some teachings about what it means to be a disciple, climbing a high mountain seems daunting. Peter, James, and John must have wondered what Jesus was thinking as they followed him up the mountain.
Quite honestly, I often wonder what Jesus is thinking as I follow him, up mountains and back down again. As I look at my calendar for the next few days, there is, quite literally, not enough time. Yet, somehow, come Monday morning, I will have done all the things needed. Right now, though, it looks like a huge mountain, one that I’m not sure I can climb. After a week of meetings, emails, conference calls, deadlines, grief counseling, hospital visits, and all the usual business of being church, getting ready for what lies at the top of the mountain (and what awaits in the valley below) feels just a little overwhelming.
Whatever Peter, James, and John were expecting as they followed Jesus upward, Transfiguration was not it. Imagine the shock of Jesus all dazzlingly shiny chatting with Elijah and Moses. Who wouldn’t be terrified? It’s the proper reaction to seeing that your teacher is next in line to the great prophets of old and is filled with the power of God in a never-seen-before kind of way. Who wouldn’t be stunned into silence, grasping for words, for breath?
Peter interrupts his hyperventilating to suggest that they build three tabernacles and hang out for a while. This idea has quite a long history. All throughout the Hebrew scriptures, folks build tabernacles in places where they have encountered the Holy. Surely, that would be an appropriate thing to do when Jesus reveals his true nature to a few trusted disciples. Right?
Nope. Not it. Guess again, Peter. You can’t stay in this terrifying, holy space. Now that you know who Jesus is and the power that he carries within himself, you have to go back down off the mountain, immediately. There’s no time to spend building dwelling places for a God who is not interested in hanging out with the high and mighty. It’s traveling on back down to the everyday places with the meek and lowly that Jesus is after. Bring the dazzling power with you and share it with all in need.
It’s a great story! One of my favorites, really. It touches a yearning within me to see God’s power so dazzlingly displayed. On the other hand, I’m content not to experience the terrifying Transfiguration so directly. I wouldn’t need to build a tabernacle to protect and prolong the holy encounter because I would be unconscious. I might even need CPR. What could stop a heart beating if not immediate, divine, dazzling revelation? I’m okay without the special effects, mostly. Though I would like to catch a brief glimpse maybe like Moses did, just seeing the back side of God…
So here we are. At the foot of the mountain where God’s glory will be revealed once again. We’ll want to linger here where we can celebrate radiant holiness in Jesus, in us as the Body of Christ. We might be tempted to build those tabernacles after all, because we know Wednesday is coming and we will be reminded of our fragile humanity. It would be so nice to linger on the mountain top, especially considering all that happened before and during the climb.
We can’t stay, though, no matter how tiring the journey. Jesus didn’t linger in the dazzling moments. He took a breath and went back down into the valley with villages full of needy, broken, lost folks, folks who need a bit of the brightness from the heights to provide hope in the depths. With the journey into the wilderness of dusty, drowsy humanity waiting for us on the other side of the mountain, let’s take a few minutes to brave the terrifying Transfiguration. Let’s soak up some of the power and light on display. Jesus wasn’t Transfigured for his sake; he undoubtedly knew who he was. He was transfigured for our sake, to remind us of the glory and power we carry into the world as we follow him.
May the terror of the Transfiguration awaken us to the wonder, glory, and promise that we carry within us as we travel on into the deep needs present in our communities and in the world. May the dazzle of the moment shine through us as we seek to be the Church, the Body of Christ, bringing hope and healing wherever we go. There’s no time for tabernacling in the aftermath of radiant holiness; there’s only time for touching others with the sparkling power of the Holy Spirit awakening holiness in all whom we meet.
RCL – Year B – Transfiguration Sunday – February 11, 2018
2 Kings 2:1-12
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Photo: CC0 image by Joachim Mayr