Have you ever caught a glimpse of God’s glory? Maybe it didn’t cover a whole mountain top or brighten up anyone’s appearance. Maybe that brief look at something holy just made your eyes shine with awe-filled tears or made the light of hope visible amidst the struggle. Maybe God’s glory is present all the time and we just don’t recognize it or don’t notice it until the circumstances are just right.
Moses went up a mountain to spend time alone with God. The Israelites saw fire on that mountain top from their place in the valley. A fire that left Moses’ face all aglow. But think of how it is that Moses came to be on that mountain top alone with God. He had led the people out of Egypt into the desert where resources were scarce. No doubt the people were growing restless as God was working out God’s covenant with the people and Moses was the go-between. How many times did Moses go up the mountain to talk with God? There were a few and we know at least once he came back down to a people who had already turned to another god. Moses needed every sparkle, glow, ray of light that God’s glory left with him. And the people maybe should have remembered that “devouring fire” a bit longer than they did.
Yet, in spite of what would remain on Moses’ face, the people couldn’t hold onto God’s glory very long. They couldn’t keep in their minds the fact that God liberated them from Egypt and wouldn’t abandon them in the desert. They wanted God with them all the time in some visible way, but not the way that dazzled their eyes. God’s glory, when viewed directly, affects the beholder’s vision. For a brief moment, Glory is all that can be taken in. Everything else literally pales by comparison. Yet, somehow, Glory fades from memory more quickly than most things.
By the time Jesus shows up, the events on Mount Sinai were long past. Perhaps the power contained in the stories had faded a bit. So one day Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain. They needed a little time away from the growing opposition to Jesus, or maybe from the crowds that gathered wherever they went. Things had been happening and Peter, James, and John could barely recognize their lives since they started following Jesus. And the debate about whether or not Jesus was the Messiah had to be exhausting, not to mention the fact that there were groups of people who wanted Jesus dead. Sure, a trip up a mountain for some alone time was a welcomed idea.
They had no way of preparing themselves for what they saw up there. Jesus transfigured (metamorphosized in the Greek) along with Moses and Elijah – glowing, garments and all, with a brightness that human hands could not produce. Peter at least recognized the sacredness of the moment and wanted to build tabernacles to mark the occasion, the holy presence. Before he could finish describing his plans, the voice from heaven had something to say. Then fear took over and they fell to the ground. I wonder if their own faces had a bit of glow about them in those moments.
When it was all over, Jesus got them to their feet and led them down the mountain. Were they silent about what they had just experienced? I doubt it. I think they were all babbling, talking over each other, trying to capture the experience with words. Then Jesus told them to stop. They could talk about it all later when it might make more sense to them. They had just had a close encounter with the glory of God and they would realize the power of it at some point.
Here’s the thing. I think we have managed to close off ourselves to the experiences of God’s glory. When we are exhausted and troubled by life’s events, we don’t necessarily take ourselves away to a mountain top or some other quiet place. We don’t necessarily think about removing some of the clutter between us and God. So when God’s glory shines, it’s filtered through a whole lot of stuff, and we might miss it. Or, more likely, call it by another name.
I’m not suggesting that we will see mountain tops devoured by holy fire or long-dead prophets hanging out with Jesus if the circumstances were right. What I am suggesting is that we will see the light of Divine Love shining in ordinary places, everyday faces, if we pay more attention. We don’t need to be able to explain everything or understand all that is. It’s okay to live in the Mystery and know that God still claims us as Beloved. Even in the midst of science and technology and so much information, the Holy is still a Mystery and sometimes that Mystery shines brilliantly on our tired, scared, confused little lives to give us hope and remind us of the promise of Love.
RCL – Year A – Transfiguration – February 23, 2020
Psalm 2 or Psalm 99
2 Peter 1:16-21