Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’ And the disciples asked him, ‘Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ He replied, ‘Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.
There is little quite like the experience of climbing a hill or a mountain on a clear day and experiencing an awe-inspiring view of a world that really does seem to be at one’s feet. My experience living on the edge of the Highlands of Scotland is of being able to see other mountains as far as one’s eye can see. On other days the uplands of the world can be enveloped in mist with a cairn or an Ordnance Survey triangulation pillar the only sight to see. Venturing into the hills can be a very different experience too depending on the season and the time of day. It is a curious juxtaposition to be on a fell top in a snowstorm remembering that the last time one was there was at the height of summer.
It is perhaps no surprise that Jesus takes some of his friends up a high mountain to a place where they might already expect to have some sort of powerful personal experience to confront them with an even more striking moment. In this story we are told of experiences of both being dazzled and in thick cloud. Mountain weather can change quickly but not usually in the instant as is described here. The story reminds us too how close the boundary can be between being amazed and being terrified. One minute feeling wowed and next cowering on the ground.
I wonder how the disciples who joined Jesus on the mountaintop processed their emotional and spiritual whiplash? They journeyed down knowing that their friend Jesus was someone amazing. In the gospels this event marks the transition point between Jesus’ teaching ministry and his journey to the events of Easter in Jerusalem. I wonder how the memory of this day comforted and nourished Jesus’ friends as they journeyed with him to the cross and beyond?
Transfigured One, illumine us as we journey with you towards Jerusalem through Lent.
We ask that we might have our own dazzling experiences of life and faith. Dazzle us, catch us unaware, surprise us again and anew with the light of your Gospel. Amen.
The Rev’d Sarah Moore, Transition Champion, National Synod of Scotland