The Transfiguration, Year B: 2Kings 2:1-12, Psalm 50:1-6, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Mark 9:2-9
Six 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, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then 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.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As 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. (Mark 9:2-9)
This morning we hear that Jesus led his disciples, Peter and James and John, up to the mountain top. And up there it was as absolutely clear as it could be…until it wasn’t. Which is sort of how it goes, isn’t it? Now I promise to stop short of recommending that we build three dwellings here, but while this “clear” is here among us, we need to visit it, and be present to it.
Because this wasn’t just the kind of clear through which the disciples could see for miles and miles, which would have carried its own beauty. Instead this was the kind of clear that allowed them to see for ages and ages, in either direction. In this surprise gathering on the mountain top they could see all the way back to Moses and they could also see forward, without detail but with the truly blessed assurance that salvation had indeed come to their people. What had begun as a simple morning hike morphed right before their eyes into this moment of profound revelation. A moment in which Peter and James and John saw that about which up to this point they had only hoped.
The gospel says this: “Jesus was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.”
Now remember that Moses was long dead, very long having led his people out of slavery in Egypt generations before. And Elijah too, not quite as long, but about a thousand years prior he’d been carried up into heaven on a chariot which we heard about in the first reading. And Peter and James and John were familiar with those stories and they knew Moses’ and Elijah’s respective roles in the faith. And so what this little mountain top gathering meant to these disciples was that Jesus was in line with the law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah) and that Jesus was indeed the Messiah for whom they had been waiting.
As this morning hike morphed into the day of revelation, the view was amazing and the pieces came together in a way that they never had before. The disciples could see all the way back to the liberation of their people and the granting of the law that structured and guided them in their life together. They could see the promise of the prophets, the justice and mercy called for among the people of God. And the disciples could see forward too, trusting for the first time ever that salvation had come to their people, that this profound and hoped for grace had come to them in Christ.
And so 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.” Now Peter’s often knocked for that line, but I can’t blame him for having that instinct. In fact I think that we should take a deep breath and sit here for a while. At least for the morning.
If for no other reason than we have to remember to value moments of this kind of grace, to nurture in us the ability we’ve been given to look back on generations that ground us and teach us, and to look forward with assurance and hope that salvation has come. We climb up and down mountains pretty quickly these days and so a little time to soak up the view, to breath in the air up here might be just what we need.
So as we end one season and prepare to begin another, sit in this one place long enough, that’s all. Long enough to see, to remember the story of liberation, the guiding of the law, the hope of the prophets who proclaimed justice and peace. Stay here long enough to look back and remember that God sustained the people, sending manna when manna was needed, sending prophets when hope was needed, granting freedom and speaking forgiveness, offering mercy and peace to those who hungered for such things, and then incarnating this love in Christ. Stay here long enough to be able to look forward too, trusting that salvation has indeed been granted us and this world. Allow that blessed assurance to seep into your bones and to touch the places that are afraid. Stay here just long enough to listen as a message of “belovedness” is spoken from the heavens.
These mountain top moments of revelation are gifts, and like the disciples, we need them too.
Because this is the vision that allows us to leave the mountain top differently than we otherwise might. There is strength and courage that comes from what we have seen and what we have heard here. There is hope and there is assurance that comes from what we have seen and what we have heard here. There might even be a little perspective gained by staying just long enough on the mountain tops that are sent our way.
And while I don’t recommend that we leave quickly, I also know that soon we’ll find ourselves in a valley – walking forty days and forty nights in the wilderness that is Lent, the wilderness that is also this world. The very good news is that this vision, this grace travels. It might need a little nurturing, a little tending and rousing along the way, but we should not be afraid. What the disciples would soon to learn and we will too, is that revelation has no limits, it has no bounds and neither does the Beloved. This amazing grace that is liberation, that is healing, that is hope stretches from the mountains to the valleys to the cross and beyond. There is resurrection to be had.
And so take time to enjoy the view today. Stay long enough to let it imprint somewhere in your heart and your mind and your soul. And then as we descend together, keep your eyes and ears open, we will be surprised, transformed by grace again soon enough.