Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Matt. 17:1-9 NRSV)
Have you ever noticed the number of important things in the Bible that happen on a mountaintop?
We have examples in our readings today. In our first reading, we heard the story of Moses receiving the ten commandments from God. On the mountaintop.
In the psalm--a psalm that celebrates the enthronement of a king, we heard where God crowns God’s king. On the mountaintop.
Even, over the past few weeks, where we’ve heard Jesus lay out a vision of God’s kingdom and the place and role of disciples in that kingdom, where did it happen? Yes, on the mountaintop.
Over and over again throughout Scripture, we have stories of these important events that happen on mountaintops. And, do you notice that almost always, it is after these mountaintop experiences happen, that we see change. Whether it is a change in situation, a change in direction, a change in relationship--nearly always, it seems, there is change.
In the chapters leading up to our Gospel lesson today, Jesus has been preparing his disciples for the coming change. He’s instructed them and sent them out on a first time mission experience. He’s mourned the death of John the Baptist with them. He’s continued to heal and to proclaim the coming of God’s kingdom. He’s continued to teach the disciples and to more fully prepare them to go out into the world. And he’s been challenging the status quo, angering many of the Pharisees and Sadducees--Jewish leaders in the temple and synagogues.
Then, comes Chapter 16--the chapter just before our text today. In verse 21 of this chapter, we read that “from that time, Jesus began to show his disciples that he had to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things...and that he had to be killed and raised on the third day.”
And Peter--you just can help but love Peter, can you? Because when Jesus tells them what is going to happen, Peter says “No way! No way will this happen to you, Jesus!”
Then, this mountaintop experience. This Transfiguration. This appearance by God who, once again as at Jesus’ baptism, says, “Yes, this is my Son. I love him. I am pleased by him. Listen to him!”
In this one declaration, God affirms to Peter, to the disciples, and to all of us that everything Jesus has predicted, that the path that Jesus is about to begin, this path that will take him down the mountaintop, onto the streets of Jerusalem, into the temple, and eventually back up onto a mountaintop, where he will be crucified on a cross--in this one declaration, God affirms that this is the path he has chosen for Jesus. For us. And for all people.
And, as much as he wants to deny it, Peter knows that this mountaintop experience will lead to change that is so hard and so unimaginable, that he just wants to hold onto it for just a minute or two longer. To not let go of this experience. To simply bask in the glory of Jesus’ presence.
This Transfiguration experience is a threshold moment. It comes at that moment between what was and what is to come. It is a transition point to change. It demands a reorientation and it sometimes comes when we are not yet ready to move into that new place. Like Peter, we, too, want to hold onto what we know. What feels safe.
I know something about this. For years, my pastor was after me to answer God’s call to go into ministry. At every opportunity, she would wonder with me about the possibility of becoming a full-time worker in the church. Year after year, she would ask. And each time, I resisted. I came up with every excuse. I needed to finish raising my son. I didn’t have the education. I couldn’t afford to leave my good-paying job. And on and on.
And then, a transfiguration moment for me. An unexpected lay-off. A moment between what was and what was to come.
Change is incredibly hard, isn’t it? It’s not that we don’t see it coming most times. It’s not that we don’t often recognize the need for it. It’s just that we wonder if we’re ready. If we can handle it. If we’re prepared for whatever that change may bring.
This Transfiguration story is a fitting story for us here at Grace and Glory as we begin to both transition into Lent and into another way of being God’s people in the world. Change is, by its very definition, the simultaneous holding onto what was and looking forward to what is to come. It’s the very definition of what is essential to our Christian faith--that we exist in a place we really don’t want to be.
That’s why it was so hard for Peter. That’s why it is so hard for us. And, yet, perhaps the best thing we can do is to simply be like the disciples on that mountaintop as they witnessed the deep love of a hidden God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. To simply bask in the glory of this mountaintop moment, in the tension of this threshold moment, this moment between what was and what is to come.
To bask in the glory and, like the disciples, to simply be in awe of this transcendent God. A God who comes down to meet us. Who we learn of here in worship--through Word and Sacrament. A God who loves us deeply and who promises to be with us. Yesterday, today, and forever.
So, listen for this God. Look for God in your lives and in the world. Search for God, even at those times when God doesn’t seem present. Because it is often in moments like this, just as in our story today, that God breaks in and reveals himself. And leads us to change and a new way of being in the world.
Preached on February 26, 2017, at Grace and Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Readings: Exodus 24:12-18, Psalm 2, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9.