Mountains can be majestic and mysterious places. Some people say they feel closer to God on a mountaintop. Jesus favored a mountain as a place to be alone, to pray, and to be close to God.
On mountain retreats, I’ve marveled in awe standing before glorious sunsets I fail to see down here in the valley – colors of red and rose streaking the blue sky as the quietly ends. I hear hawks, waterfalls, rustling leaves and I feel like I’m sitting atop the world. I’m awed when I see snowy peaks in the Rockies against a deep blue background, or I hike a trail that opens onto a ridge. I think the ancients are right. We are closer to God on a mountaintop. You feel as if you have been lifted into a larger world – one we miss down here when our focus is elsewhere.I imagine when Jesus says to Peter, James and John, “Let’s go to the mountain,” they were ready. Days earlier Jesus admits he is the awaited Messiah. He’ll suffer and die. That’s not what the disciples expect nor want to hear. Messiah is powerful, victorious, and larger than life. Peter didn’t turn in his fishing license to follow some guy who’ll die. Maybe on the mountain, closer to God, Jesus will come to his senses. A drama is to unfold that will change their lives forever, not Jesus’ mind.
Strange things begin to happen. Jesus’ face glows like the sun. His clothes are brighter than pure white. Moses and Elijah appear out of nowhere, chatting with Jesus as if they’re old friends. I can’t say how the disciples knew who they were. I doubt they wore name tags, “Hello, My name is Moses.”
Peter is so overcome he suggests, “Let’s erect three monuments to mark this moment.” Before he can finish, a cloud descends, a voice booms: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; LISTEN TO HIM.” That’s God’s speech, repeating his words spoken over Jesus’ baptism, but with an addendum, LISTEN TO HIM!
A glow in the dark Jesus talking with two dead guys doesn’t scare Peter and the others. The Almighty comes within striking distance. That scares them. They learned no one can see God and live – until this moment. To see God’s face in Jesus’ life brings life eternal. That’s transfiguration’s meaning. God comes to us in Jesus. We are Christians not by joining a church, going to potlucks; or attending worship. We are Christians because Jesus is who he is. LISTEN TO HIM!
Knowing God is love and knowing the outcome of this story can relieve our fears, as Jesus tried to do for the three on the mountain with him. Jesus takes fear away. That’s a good word to hear as we return to the daily, ordinary grind of our lives. We’ll still fear and feel anxiety, but fear doesn’t have to rule our lives and keep us anxious. We will be following Jesus on a death march to Jerusalem, where he suffers and dies. And he hands us a cross to carry. We die, too. But our death is to die to ourselves so God can shape us into His image. We still must work with the Almighty on this. Not always does God with fit our plans. Often we try to shape God into the image we want Him to be. God doesn’t always fix our dying loved ones on this side. God is not a pain reliever, nor does God answer prayers on our schedule, or in the ways we ask, no matter how pious we act. We die to self – to our ideas of how God should be. We die to self and get over ourselves to take God more seriously than we do ourselves.
DO NOT BE AFRAID. Jesus’ momentary metamorphosis shows us God’s nature is loving and ever present with us. Look to Jesus and see that God defeats death, meaninglessness, meanness, evil, and sin with the powers of love, forgiveness, and mercy. We can look around at this world, and wonder if God is winning. Jesus is transfigured so we can see some things hidden – like God has already won. So don’t be afraid.
This coming week I’ll be reminding us, we are mortal; we are dying. Welcome to reality. We’ll get marked with ashen crosses, as we have been marked with an oily cross in baptism. That cross is a sign of death – and a sign of new life now. We are marked in Christ. Because we know the story’s ending, we need no longer fear, even death. Jesus is known, transfigured in us, and we have become his signs – of new life. We are to change not just ourselves – but the world. Jesus’ transfiguration is not for our pleasure, entertainment or our fear relief. We are transfigured with God’s light and love shining in our faces and through our lives. Transfiguration changes us into signs of Jesus’ presence – of peace, love, forgiveness, mercy and joy – to be present and alive in a world filled with hatred, violence and fear. That can get us killed – it did Jesus. But don’t fear – we are alive in Christ Jesus forever.
God says, “Listen to my boy.” In him is life – the very life of God, given for us, because we are so loved. That we can never take for granted. Be silent before the image of Jesus revealed in glory. Absorb what this means – take it inside you. Be transfigured and transformed. That drama on the mountain also changes our lives forever, sending us forth into the world to bear news that is very true and very good.