- Psalm 50:1-6 (VU p.775)
- Mark 9:2-9
Early Thoughts: How do you respond when all of a sudden God is revealed to you? Is it a terrifying thing? Or is it comforting?
More importantly, does God being revealed move you to action or does it freeze you in place (either out of fear or out of a desire to stay in that place and time)?
The story of the Transfiguration is fairly straightforward, as a narrative anyway. Trying to determine the meaning of that narrative is a whole other question. And because of the ambiguity in what it means there are a variety of ways we can preach on it/explore it. Which is probably good, since the Lectionary has us read the story every single year.
Here we stand on one of the thresholds of the Church year. Since the beginning of January we have been in the Season of Epiphany, a time when the themes of light and call are highlighted. We have heard stories about Jesus calling disciples, gathering followers to his vision of the world. Next week we start on the road to Jerusalem, arrest, conviction, and execution. As we start to change moods we are invited to join Jesus, Peter, James, and John on the mountain top. To prepare us for the time of trial that is coming we are invited to stand in the continuing presence of God; who is of the Past, the Present, and the Future.
But what does it mean to stand there? What does it mean to witness God being revealed? The ancient Israelites found the very prospect terrifying. So much so that they ask Moses to go into God's presence on their behalf, so that they don't have to witness it directly. The words awful and awesome come from the same root. And both are used to describe that feeling of being in the glory of God. So maybe we are astounded and stunned and afraid when we find ourselves on the mountain-top.
Or maybe our feelings are more of comfort and safety. Maybe that place is so wonderful that we want to stay there. Maybe, like Peter, we want to build a dwelling and remain.
Or maybe we are hope-filled. Some commenters suggest that Peter is remembering an old belief that the Reign of God would come during the Feast of Tabernacles, a festival where little booths were built around Jerusalem. There was an old tradition that Moses and Elijah would return at the beginning of GOd's Reign and so Peter is reacting to seeing God's Reign being made real and actual. Obviously it is time to build booths (and surely Jesus and Moses and Elijah should not have to build them for themselves).
I think all three of these responses are real and valid. Fear, or comfort, or hope are honest responses to the glory of God. But the really important part of our response is how it changes our lives.
Mountain top experiences happen to many of us, in some form or another. Many of us have stories of times when we knew, just KNEW, that God was with us. Times when we knew we were Beloved. Times when we knew that we were not alone. And for many of us it is those times that keep us going when the way is hard. When we know that God is with us, that God is active in the world, we can find the strength to wrestle with the hardships of life, even the roads that lead to a cross on a hill (remembering that Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him).
What are the mountain top experiences in your life? Were they quiet and subtle or were they bombastic and glowing? Where do you go to recapture that sense of connection? And how does God being revealed make a difference in your life?
We'll explore these sorts of questions on Sunday. Come and join us won't you?