After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” - Matthew 17:1-9
We always want Jesus to stay right where he is, or where we think he should be. An unmoving Jesus. A tamable Jesus. A Golden-retriever-Sit…good God, Jesus. A Jesus that we know where to find him when the crap hits the fan, or when we feel really religious. That is, we want a certain place Jesus. Not the intrusive Jesus. We want a Jesus that is a Jesus of church, you know the Jesus things. But fortunately for you, Jesus knows you, knows that every part of you needs him, not just the parts you think.
When I was in youth group, Spring Retreat was the event of the year. We went up to a camp in the mountains of California. We played games, jumped from the pamper pole. So named because jumping from the very top of a telephone pole to reach a trapeze, well you needed diapers by the time you were done.
The excitement of the weekend was more for the “super-spiritual” mountain top moments we would have. Worship and teaching on Saturday night that would literally bring you to tears. Realizing the extreme sinfulness of sin and the extreme graciousness of Christ was what Saturday night was all about. We had our time around the campfire afterwards, behind the chapel playing songs, singing, praying. Sometimes I still get goosebumps thinking about it. But also I remember the call on Sunday morning to not let the Spiritual fire burning in us die on the mountain but to take it with us. And yet, in truth? It always waned.
As a worship leader and band member in large churches, the goal was always to have this similar type of service. Music that tugs at your heartstrings. That message in which you could bring people to tears of despair or joy, not even knowing why. That euphoria almost. Spiritual high becoming a sort of drug in and of itself, and as a pastor, I try now to stay away from that. Not that I want you to be bored, but I don’t want you depending on me to make you feel spiritual. I want the spirit to work. I want Christ to be the focus and foundation of the faith we share.
Why? Because it becomes a question of what do we do about the in-between times? The times between those moments where songs are done, the message completed, we’ve left the parking lot and go off to real life. What then? There is no band with lights and fog machines. There isn’t going to be that mountain-top retreat. Just life. Just the real stuff.
Peter thought he could fix the problem. Jesus, if you like, I could pitch three tents. One for you. One for Moses. And one for Elijah. Then we can make a home up here for you on this mountain, Jesus. Keep you here so I can find you again when I need you. Keep you here to make this a special place.
Not a bad idea, because our life needs those holy moments. Those holy times that completely transcend the day-to-day. Those are important as sort of feeder for our souls to nourish us for the journey, but Jesus highlights the problem for Peter as they come down the mountain - “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” Peter thought he knew this Jesus. Another special person like Moses or Elijah. Lawgiver. Prophet. Teacher. Not thinking that his resume was to include Corpse or Death-defier.
Trying to decide where Christ is supposed to be is dangerous. It causes us to look around and think we know what God is up to or where God is working. It makes us think we can say about this person – they need Jesus. Or they should go to church. Or that church doesn’t have Jesus like my church.
That is the nuisance of this faith we have. We have a physical faith. A faith that is attached to physical things. Spatial things. Tangible things. Any time people are involved, with words, songs, motions, its physical. But there is no Temple. There is no singular holy site. Yes, we have the Holy land, with many places to visit. We have Rome, if you tend towards the catholic side of things. Lutherans, we do have the promised land of Norway. Wittemberg and Luther land too, I guess, but that doesn’t quite do it. So we are left to try and figure things.
And this is good because this physical faith of ours is meant to be in motion. Moveable. As Christ came down the mountain, not staying in one special place, so too we have a faith that is this moving faith. A faith not left to be lost in a sea of a singular site to which we turn but to this singular person who came down the mountain for you. A faith and a Jesus we can take with us.
This coming down is important because it is tied to our faith as also an historical faith. Physical and historical are kind of the same but different. Paradox. I know. It is an historical faith because it involves people again. James, John, Peter, Jesus, you. An historical faith tied to events and happenings. To this transfiguration, this lighting up of Jesus to show his glory as God made flesh for you. The creeds that speak to us of names and events that we look to. Jesus, Mary, Pilate. Birth. Suffering. The crucifixion. The burial. The third day. Historical things.
Historical and physical kiss in the sacraments. Where water is joined with the promised words of God, the same words we hear spoken of Jesus – This is my beloved son – speaking to you my beloved child. The bread and wine given for you as was done so long ago. Attached to an upper room, a table and people, but also to a cross, a body, a breaking and shedding of blood. An historical Jesus dying and rising for you. Bursting through any tents or fences we build to hem him in as he comes down the mountain, burst through the grave instead.
This is the last Sunday before Lent. It is always Transfiguration Sunday. This last little taste of the mountain before we dig into the reality of our in-between moments. Our journey, moving to a particular time, a particular space, to not go up the mountain, but to be there at the foot of it. To hear the Word of God. To call us out from always seeking the glory of the peak, and realize that God exists in Christ for you in hardship. In struggle. In pain and suffering. Even in death.
Make space these next weeks for times for you to sit and reflect. Come to Ash Wednesday services this week to remember your mortality and to more appreciate the immortality won for you in Christ. Gather for our Lenten services with soup for your body before and prayer and meditation for your soul after. Set aside a moment each day to not be busy so as to read the Scriptures, pray a prayer, do the devotional, go on a pilgrimage to a “holy place.” Even here. Let yourself be captured by the grace of God given to you. These are not the attempts to somehow become more-religious, but to live purposefully for a time to see how this Jesus who came, who died, who rose, lives not in one hour a week on a Sunday.
Lent is full of these reminders of the connections of the historical and physical with the reality of the world as we walk an actual living journey from one mountain to another. Because we end our Epiphany season here with this mountain of the glory and make our way towards another holy mountain. A mountain crowned by a cross and a dying Jesus who went there for you. Even in your doubts, even in your fears, even in your inattentiveness or laxity – Christ does not change. He does not sit at a mountain peak waiting for you to come to him, but came to you in his cross 2000 years ago. Giving of himself physically and freely to free you from sin. From death. From the powers of evil, to be with you always in the promises of God and in the holy or less holy places too. Amen