As we prepare to enter in to the season of Lent, anticipating Easter and all that comes with it we’ll take one last look at these examples of “Fruit from Unlikely Sources,” those place of scripture that aren’t usually the first places we turn for inspiration or discernment or simple, clear word. This morning we’ll turn our attention to one those places that can leave us scratching our heads, one of the place that might leave us with more questions than answers, one those places that is hard to understand. We’ll be in Luke, Chapter 9, beginning in verse 28.
This moment marks a turning point in Jesus’ ministry, not just in Luke’s gospel but in Matthew and Mark as well, it happens right after the first declaration of Peter that Jesus is the Messiah, the first times that Jesus begins to talk openly about having to suffer and die, and after this point he begins his journey towards Jerusalem that of course ends with his arrest and crucifixion. That’s why this Sunday is “Transfiguration Sunday” on the church calendar, for us it also the last moment before our own journey towards the cross. So its important, its something that we probably know about if we have spent a lot of time in church, it is something that there’s a lot of artwork of, but its also something that really hard to say what happened.
The specifics are easy. Jesus takes Peter and James and John up a mountain with him and while they’re there he starts to pray and during the prayer he changes. His face starts to glow, so do his clothes, and then two people, who we find out are Moses and Elijah, who are of course dead, appear and the three of them carry on a conversation. Peter and company have apparently slept through everything up to this point, but manage to wake up, Peter suggests setting up camp, at that God speaks, and then everything is over. Moses and Elijah disappear, Jesus goes back to normal, and no one wants to talk about what happened afterwards.
Interesting story, cool moment, but there’s not a lot of obvious lessons to take away there, right? On the surface that’s true, but as is often the case with things like this one, if we’re willing to spend some time, look a little bit deeper, there are some things that are important for us to take away that we’d do well not to miss.
The first one is this, its during his prayer that Jesus is transformed. That can potentially call our minds back to a moment in Exodus, where, after Moses returns from receiving the Ten Commandments he also glows to the point that the people can’t stand to look at him. What a difference it would make if the world could see obviously when we’d been in the presence of God. What a difference it would make if something in the way we spoke or acted or interacted with the world around showed that we had experienced something so profound that we could not help but be changed by it.
Its interesting to me also, both those examples come, not from big moments of worship, but from quiet, individual moments of prayer. It is in our private moments that we are going to discover God in the deepest and most meaningful ways. Now obviously what we do here together is important, moments of worship are important, but they can’t replace consistent, personal, dedicated time with God.
A few things come out of the events that transpire here that are worth pointing out. God speaks, and that’s significant because it confirms for us as readers what Peter said earlier in the chapter, this is God’s son and his word is good. It reminds us that it is the Jesus that we find in scripture that we get our clearest picture of what God is like. Moses and Elijah being there is important for two reasons, the first is that they set up a hierarchy that puts Jesus above the law and the prophets, the other is probably even more significant: they’re dead. We know Moses died. Elijah got taken up in a whirlwind but for all intents and purposes both of these people are dead and gone. Except they’re not gone. Somehow, even though they died they live on, they are still here in some way. Isn’t that what we all hope for, that this life might not be the end? Here we see it played out, God is the God of the living and not the dead.
The final thing I want to look at is the reaction of Peter when he wakes up. He offers to set up tents for Jesus and Moses and Elijah. Any of us who have experience big moments, whether they were big moments in faith or not can understand that mindset, we want to make those things last. When we find ourselves on the mountaintop we want to stay there as long as possible. That’s not how it works though is it. Try as we might we can’t keep that moment forever. The excitement of the wedding gives way to the work of marriage, the thrill of a first job offer becomes the grind of the daily nine to five, the rush of a positive pregnancy test gets forgotten at 2 am when he’s been crying for an hour and isn’t showing any sign of stopping. The mountaintops give way to valleys. Try as we might to cling to those moments, we can’t make them stay. The best we can hope to do is remember them, learn from them, and lean on them when the valleys come. Discipleship, the work of following Jesus, is not done by staying still but by following on. The view from the mountaintop may be majestic, but the road beckons, and there will be other vistas and transforming experiences ahead. Amen. May we know God to be present in both our mountain tops and valleys.