The Transfiguration of our Lord
Mark 9: 2-9
It was in 1922, when George Leigh (Maloree) Mallory answered the question “why do you want to climb Everest?” he first coined that famous quote, “Because it’s there.” He went on to say it’s very existance was a challenge, and in 1924 the same mountain cost him his life. In the 1980s Sir Edmund Hillary, tongue in cheek, said that “it’s also very important to get down”.
Apart from 2020 and 2021 dealing with Covid-19, mountains are still the ultimate challenge, and in Britain, groups such as Firefighters regularly take on the ‘three peaks’ challenge for charities. I once saw a wonderful photograph of six firemen standing on the peak of Snowden as the sun rose behind them. It was a beautiful, and powerful image.
Throughout our bible mountains figure quite a lot, some three whole pages and several hundred entries are found in my concordance. Mountains were very important to the people of Israel, after all, Jerusalem was built on and around seven of them. In Genesis we read of Abraham being tested to sacrifice his son Isaac, and meeting God up a mountain on the plains of Moriah. In Exodus we read of Moses being given the Ten Commandments on Mnt Sinai, whilst the people below had a party. And in the first book of Kings we read of Elijah on Mnt Horeb meeting with God in the silence.
Jesus was fond of withdrawing to a mountainside to reflect and pray and to get close to his Father. We read Peter, only a week before, had openly recognised Jesus as the Messiah, but it would be a while before he came to realise what kind of Messiah he would be. And today we hear how Jesus took Peter with John and James up the mountain to pray. What happened next was almost indescribable and certainly an emotional experience for all three disciples.
Transfiguration, its not a word that we use in conversation very often, and so I looked it up. A change in form or appearance so as to elevate or idealise, and interestingly it comes from the same root as to transform. Something I will touch on later.
Peter, James and John had dozed off while Jesus prayed. As they woke they saw what they interpreted as Jesus standing and talking with Moses and Elijah. Jesus’ face appeared to have changed and his clothes were glowing, dazzling white. Peter, impetuous Peter, jumped in with his idea of marking this amazing vision by erecting three booths or tents. I suppose nowadays we might have snapped a selfie with our mobile phone. But next, as the cloud decended and the vision dimmed they heard the voice of God, himself, “This is my Son, my chosen one; listen to him”. Like many mysteries do, disappointingly at this point everything returned to normal, and the three disciples kept the whole event to themselves.
It is clear that throughout their history Jewish people were quite tuned into visions as a way for God to speak to his people. We read, in Daniel and The Revelation to John, of amazing dreams and visions containing a reality that today we find difficult to understand. Still, we do get the general picture in this reading of a mountain top experience that left the three disciples stunned into silence, Godsmacked.
Was it like the sun’s reflection off snow or white sand, or off a white building? We were not there and so we can never know for certain what happened. But we do know that Peter wanted to mark a momentous moment in the same way we do. In the 21st century we have photgraphs, videos, film and recordings at our finguretips, to mark out and record our special times, our mountain top experiences, for posterity.
We mere humans cannot stop time, as Peter wanted to, to keep those wonderful events alive in our memory. I am reminded of 86 year old Peggy Styles, who studied during severe ill health, and received her PhD from Bristol University. Also of a ninety plus year old African American woman who, when asked what her degree meant to her, said to the stunned audience that she wished her grandfather could have seen her because he had been a slave.
Luke tells us Jesus was talking to Moses and Elijah about his departure, his new Exodus from another mountain just outside Jerusalem. A time and place, soon to come, when all God’s people would be led out of slavery from sin and death to the new promised land, a new creation, a place where we will live for ever. Easter was to transform and redefine God’s relationship with his people to the end of time.
Mountain top experiences are transforming, both for those involved, but also for us who hear about, or read of them. Mountain top experiences are quite wonderful, but they often take a great deal of effort to achieve, and being airlifted to the summit just doesn’t count. However much we want to extend the excitement of reaching our goal we can’t stay there for ever, as Sir Edmund Hillary said “it’s very important to get down’.
In life we experience many ups and downs. 2020 has given the whole world an experience that sadly scientists tell us we will see again. In life we can lose our shine, the gloss wears off and our enthusiasm wains. Every experience in life transforms us in some way. Very often following a really great event, such as a birth, a marriage, or a spiritual event like being confirmed, it is followed by a sense of loss or being deflated. We come down to earth with a bump.
We can feel on top of the world one minute and in deep dispair the next. What then? Well it is then that we need to remember the message and not just the image. From the midst of the cloud God said “This is my Son, I love him, I am pleased with him”. When we trust in and have faith in Jesus as the Son of God, then these are the words that can fulfil all our hopes and prayers, we too are told to, ‘do what he tells you’. Amen.
The Rev'd Mo Lunn, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 14/02/2021