Luke 9: 28-36 [i]
Lauren J. McFeaters
March 3, 2019
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People of faith, do a lot of holding each other up. It’s intuitive. It’s instinctive.
- A friend is sick – we make soup.
- Someone needs a ride to a medical test – we drive.
- A school needs extra supplies – we collect.
- Our neighbor’s husband has surgery – we sit with her in the surgical waiting room.
- There’s devastating news from a colleague – we weep beside them.
- Our grandchild is exhausted from everything required at school – we provide a calm, secure space.
Throughout a life of faith, we learn to hold each other up the mountains and steady each other on the way down.
Today, Jesus takes us to the mountain. The Transfiguration. It’s an odd and confounding climb.
It’s strange: the entrance of two long-deceased Hebrew prophets. It’s unusual: Jesus’ reformed face and astounding clothing. And it turns out to be a bridge for us into Lent. We move between Jesus’ baptism, with “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased,” and his resurrected transfigured and transformed self. [ii]
You’d think Peter and Company would not have been so shaken. You’d think by now, after all the healings, all the preaching, all the miracles, all the conversations, they’d be prepared on a mountain for visons and wonders. And surely by now they’d remember when you go up a mountain there’s bound to be a cloud.
When the Israelites are liberated from Egypt, and wandering in the wilderness, God stayed with them in a pillar of fire by night, and a pillar of cloud by day. The cloud guided and mapped their way.
When the Israelites were afraid, hungry, thirsty, and need God’s presence —all they needed to do was look to the cloud. The cloud protects and shelters.
When Moses climbed Sinai to receive from God the Ten Commandments, a cloud descended upon the mountain, and envelopes them. The people can no longer see. The cloud shields and separates.
When God instructs the Israelites to construct a totable Tabernacle, God fills the tent with God’s Presence in the form of a cloud. And, later, when Solomon builds the Temple, once again a cloud filled the sanctuary. The cloud radiates God’s power.
So, when the cloud descends atop the mountaintop with Jesus, these disciples shouldn’t be left dazed that it has surrounded and enveloped them.
But they are. And so are we.
Because what a sight. Not your average follow the cloud, or find shelter in the cloud, or look up at the cloud. This is no fog or vapor or haze or smog. This cloud is front page news. It radiates God’s power, envelopes, and encircles.
And if that’s not enough, here’s Moses, on his first ever, inaugural visit to the Promised Land, a land from which he was banned, barred, and forbidden by God to enter. And here is Moses having a conversation with Jesus and once again encased in a cloud.
Here’s Elijah, priest, prophet, God’s miracle worker for whom a table’s been set at every Passover feast but who has never shown up. And here he is having a conversation with Jesus and once again wrapped in a cloud.
And here’s Jesus, shining, dazzling, blazing like the sun; face transformed and transfixed; his whole person transfigured as God announces from the cloud: [iii]
“This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
“You are my Son, whom I adore. And I am well pleased.”
On the edge of Lent, on the brink of end, on the threshold of climbing up the road to Jerusalem to die, Jesus, climbs into the hills for rest, for prayer, for solitude. Perhaps to get a mountaintop perspective.
One preacher puts it like this: from the mountaintop looking over the land of Galilee, if he narrows his eyes, perhaps Jesus can see the little girl he raised from the dead a few days before. She’s now playing with other children in front of her house.
Perhaps he can see Herod, pacing back and forth on his palace rooftop, nervous in his movement, agitated in his striding. He’s gotten rid of John the Baptist. Now what will he do about this Jesus character.
Perhaps Jesus sees a crowd gathering on one hillside asking one another, “Where is that man who gave us bread and fish? We’re starving again!”
Perhaps from another direction Jesus sees a group of people huddled around a small boy who’s twisting in pain and there are the parents filled with anguish. Everyone’s asking, “Where’s that man who heals?”
On the edge of Lent, on the brink of end, on the threshold of climbing up the road to Jerusalem, perhaps all of us need a mountaintop experience. [iv]
Alyce McKenzie puts it like this, if you know what it is like to hold people up and what it’s like to be bone-dead tired. If you know what it’s like to have people judging you and gossiping about you, you have a share with Jesus in this mountaintop experience.
And if you are filled with fear at what lies ahead, and terror you won’t endure it, you have a share with Jesus in this mountaintop experience.
If you have ever compromised your faith or felt the pain of separation from God, you have a share with Moses in this mountaintop experience.
If you’ve running scared, hiding out, begging for God to take your life. If you’ve said to God, “I can’t take any more pain. I’m done,” you have a share with Elijah in this mountaintop experience. [v]
At Nassau, if you want some faith perspective on mountain top experiences all you need to do is talk to Mark and Janine Edwards and Adeline and Elias. They’re mountaintop people. Literally. They’ll carry the load when you can’t do it anymore. And you’ll do the thing that seemed impossible.
If you want some spiritual perspective on mountain top experiences all you need to do is join those who have climbed Beyond Malibu or trekked the Camino or put up sheet rock and stabilized flooring in Appalachia or rehabbed a staircase down the street. They help us see a new horizon and show us how to hold each other up.
Even if you’ve never climbed or scaled up a mountain you can still appreciate what it means for the Christian life. After all, people of faith, do a lot of holding each other up. It’s what we do. It’s in our blood. It’s in our bones.
Maybe this Lent, following Jesus, knowing he is the Chosen One, listening to him, we can all the better climb together and hold each other up. It’s tough. There’s always more hill. Always one more crest to traverse east, then traverse west.
So when the path gets steep and treacherous. When we clutch onto one another. When we cry out to God. That’s where we catch a glimpse of grace and glory. That’s when Jesus turns his radiance to us, offers his hand, and never lets us go. Take his hand.
[i] Luke 9: 28-36 / NRSV: Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and, in those days, told no one any of the things they had seen.
[ii] David Lose. “Transfiguration C: Listen to Him.” March 1, 2019, Davidlose.net.
[iii] Susan Gamelin. “Transfiguration: Mark 9.” February 26, 2006, Day1.org.
[iv] Alyce McKenzie. “A Transforming Transfiguration: Reflections on Luke 9:28-36.” February 3, 2013, Patheos.com.
[v] Alyce McKenzie.