February 19, 2023
Jane Shelton, CRE
We all have tales to tell, regardless of what age we are, and as we grow older, there are more stories to share with our loved ones. Children anxiously sit around their grandparents waiting to hear the next exciting story of their grandparent’s life’s journey. Everyone shares stories with each about notable events in their lives. As we grow older, we reflect back on events in our lives, and there are always a few stories that stand out from the rest.
History is made from life changing events and stories shared. Stories like the great depression, wars, the killing of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and 9-11 to name a few. These are sad and memorable events. There are also happy occasions we remember, like the discovery of how to make fire and electricity, and the invention of the car, for example. There are also everyday stories that change our lives as well. Family and Friends that we engage with along life’s journey. A family gathering, a vacation shared with friends, or people we walk with on our spiritual journey. These stories change our lives about how we see things around us, how we think and how we feel.
The same is true for Peter, James and John as they traverse a mountain with Jesus, but this does not turn out to be any sort of ordinary hike as they reach the top of the mountain. This journey comes just six days after Jesus has shared with his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, endure great suffering, be killed and raised on the third day.
The disciples are probably still shaken from that bit of news, and I’m sure, like all of us would be doing after hearing this terrible news, we would be contemplating, what is going to happen, how we might prevent it, or worst of all, what if it really happens and there is nothing we can do to prevent it from happening.
Today, they arrive with Jesus at the summit of this mountain, and I’m sure like previous days of journeying with Jesus, they were expecting anything but ordinary, or were they? Along his journey, Jesus would often find solitude to pray. So maybe the disciples were used to these outings, but today would be anything but ordinary, and in fact, it would indeed be extraordinary.
There at the top of the mountain, Jesus was transfigured. He was changed and his face shined like the sun, his clothes became dazzling white. Can you just imagine if that happened to someone here before us? What would we think as we observe this extraordinary event? Shock? Dismay? Fear? I’m sure there would be all of those feelings, and maybe others, too.
And if this is not enough to take in, alongside Jesus in this form of a bright, white light appear Moses and Elijah. The prophets of old that amazingly these three disciples recognize. Now, Peter, James and John would not have personally met Moses and Elijah. So how do they know it is Moses and Elijah? Could it be from the ongoing conversation that they hear in the bright light going on before them? Or is because of the stories that have been passed down from generation to generation about these two men, these prophets? Or is it because God reveals to them that this is Moses and Elijah? We don’t know other than that is who we are told it is with Jesus in the bright light.
Now we don’t hear anything from James and John at this point, but Peter, who I just love. He’s like the star pupil in the classroom! Remember, just six days earlier when Jesus was talking with his disciples and asked them, “Who do you say that I am,” it was Peter who spoke up and replied, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus confirms that Peter is correct.
So, here at the transfiguration, it is Peter who jumps in during all that is going on, and quickly wants to mark this event by building three dwellings, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah, but God has other plans. God comes in the scene while Peter is still speaking. I just love this as it is a reminder, that sometimes when we have a plan, God will break in to our thinking with the plan God has for us.
And as everything is bright and shining, in comes God as a bright cloud overshadowing everything that is going on. This is God’s greatness, an example of his encompassing ability to be in control of everything that goes on around us. Then from the cloud comes the voice of God, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” Here again is the prophetic message being delivered by God, just as it was delivered at the baptism of Jesus.
And at this great voice, the disciples are overcome with fear and fall to the ground, and my favorite part of the story, Jesus comes over and touches them. He touches them, like he touches us when we are in fear, when we are dealing with something bigger than us….Jesus touches us to comfort us, to reassure us that we are not alone.
Jesus says to them, “Get up, and do not be afraid,” and when they look up, they see no one except Jesus. And let’s take a moment to hear again what our scripture says exactly, “they saw no one except Jesus…himself alone. Jesus, himself alone. Jesus is again like one of us, human, but he is more than that, he is God with us, the living God whose abiding presence is with us even today. Jesus understands what it is to be alone, and he reminds us he is here with us, and we do not need to be afraid.
And as they are coming back down from the mountain, Jesus instructs them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” Only these three disciples now know with certainty that Jesus was the awaited Messiah. Prophetically, things still had to happen, so that it could be revealed to the world. Jesus still had to endure suffering and the cross, and be resurrected to show the world that he was the true Messiah foretold by the prophets.
While it is hard for us to think about the suffering that Jesus endured, just as it is hard for us to understand the suffering of people we love, remember that where there is suffering, there is Holy Ground. These are the moments when we realize God is present in suffering and sacrifice, just as God is present in the promise and potential of our lives.
Peter’s story, as well as James’ and John’s, has been passed down from generation to generation. Their experience on the top of the mountain on what might have started as just another ordinary day, gives us knowledge and understanding that the light and the glory of God is in the face of Jesus Christ. When we allow that same bright light to shine in our hearts, the incarnate God is made real in everyday happenings of our lives and with others we meet along our journey. We never know when God is going to place someone before us that will need a light of love. Will our heart be ready and shining with mercy and loving kindness?
C.S. Lewis writes a final word from Aslan in The Silver Chair, in his series of Chronicles of Narnia:
“Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly. I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearance. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.”
God take us to Holy Ground so that we can have a clear mind and prepare our hearts for what we will face in the world. When we think we cannot endure something, God will be with us to take us through it, and show us how to get it through it.
God prepares us to endure the world we live in and what seems are events that will break us. It’s important that we remember the heart of God, the heart of God in others around us that are here to help us, and the heart of strangers we encounter perhaps only once in our lives.
Nothing is beyond God’s redemption. While we cannot shield ourselves and others we love from suffering, we know that God is present with them, as well as with those around us going through it, too. God is always present with us in joy and sorrow.
On the mountain of transfiguration, Jesus was preparing a community for a sacred journey. It was the moment when Jesus took us to Holy Ground so that God could reveal himself and let us know that there is nothing we can do to prevent joy and sorrow. God will find us wherever we are in the moment. When we are down and dealing with a broken heart full of sorrow, and there seems to be no way out, maybe everything is a bit overwhelming and confusing, Jesus will touch us, and say, “get up and do not be afraid.”
This week on Ash Wednesday, we will begin our journey into the season of Lent as we traverse 40 days to the cross with Jesus. I pray that these 40 days will not just be another 40 days of our lives, but 40 days of a thought provoking journey with Jesus.
We will have a Lenten Daily Devotional prepared for you at our Ash Wednesday service, which will be at 6:30 p.m. on February 22nd. I encourage you to pick up a daily devotional there. Katie will also be sending a link from the church office for the electronic version for those who prefer to read from your iphones and ipads.
I invite you to imagine yourself walking with Jesus each day. Get up each day and journey with Jesus to the mountain top. Look for Holy Ground on your journey. Those moments when you allow yourself to be in the presence of God. Maybe you can set aside time to join us for a session of Centering Prayer as we gather on Wednesday evenings at 5:30 p.m. on Facebook.
Risk the journey of fasting from everyday habits. Experience a daily walk with Jesus that might involve weeping and suffering, and one that leads to celebration and surprise when life is somehow redeemed through the Easter celebration of our risen Lord.
Come, let’s walk together through these 40 days.
*Cover Image by Stushie, used with subscription