Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year C, 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s, Mountain Home
Last November I attended clergy conference at Camp Mitchell. It ended on a Wednesday morning so I had enough time to drive home and prepare for pub theology. When I arrived we talked briefly about clergy conference and when asked where it was I said, “I think it’s called Petit Jean”. Now, I took French in high school and college, and I can speak some small bits still. So I was relatively certain I was pronouncing this right. The people I was talking to however had never heard of such a place and we continued trying to figure out where exactly Camp Mitchell is. Eventually someone said, “Oh! You mean Petty Jeen!” It got me thinking about mountain top experiences, points in our lives where we end up somewhere amazing, whether physical or not, have experiences that are transformative, and then we struggle to communicate with others where and how those events take place.
Today we end the season after Epiphany the way in which it always comes to a close with a reading of the Transfiguration of Jesus. This is separate from the actual feast of the Transfiguration which is observed on August 6th. So why do we have it here? It is in a way both in order of the narrative but also completely out of order for what we’re doing next. It is in order because the Transfiguration is literally the last Epiphany of Jesus. It is the last grand ‘ah ha’ moment for folks. From this mountain top, Jesus will continue his ministry en route to Jerusalem, for his ultimate torture and death. That is the narrative road we are walking too. We are preparing for the end of his ministry and the road to Golgotha. That is where Lent takes us, and eventually we get to the resurrection. But for now we have one more bright shining moment before we come down to do ministry.
In terms of moments in life of Jesus, this is a spectacular event, something that at the end of the reading we even hear that those who witnessed it wouldn’t talk about it. And let’s be honest here, that’s now always our experience of the disciples. But this is so profound, so amazing that they just don’t speak of it. I can’t blame them either. This is the sort of story that gives us the term ‘mountain top experience”. In fact if you consider everything that happens on a mountain top in our scripture and tradition….well….we might start staying at base camp more often. But there they are, Jesus, John, Peter, and James. They go up to the top of this mountain, really Jesus goes up there to pray, the disciples go with him, and while Jesus is praying he is transfigured. His countenance is dazzling, his clothes change, his face shines, and two figures are there with him, talking to him, Moses and Elijah. As those two figures depart, Peter says something very interesting. “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” A lot of the time that this passage is preached, we focus on things like Peter being silly and suggesting they build huts, and how wrong he is, or how the important part of a mountain top experience is coming back down.
Generally, that statement is very true. A mountain top experience does not hold its importance unless it is unique. It cannot be your day to day routine or it ceases to be so profound. Don’t we, at a certain point in life have to realize and begin training ourselves to remember to be amazed at waking up every morning? Routine removes the miraculous nature of life. So while it’s true that you have to come down from the mountain top, something has really stood out to me in studying this scripture again. Partly it’s what Peter says…and partly it’s that in all three of the gospels where this story occurs, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, no one argues with Peter. No one says “No, Peter, wrong again.” Peter doesn’t always have a great track record with making suggestions people agree with, especially Jesus. But this one…this time Peter says, “it is good to be here”, and no one disagrees.
The Transfiguration is one of the five major points in Jesus’ life, along with the baptism, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, and what makes the miracle of the Transfiguration so important is that on the top of this mountain, where Jesus has gone to pray, the temporal and the eternal meet. It is a holy moment, and like Peter says, it is good to be there. So what sets this apart from what we normally think of as a mountain top experience is that this isn’t really something that has an end. Sure, Jesus stops glowing, and the other two figures disappear, but this isn’t something that changes us and then dissipates over time. In fact I think the Transfiguration sets a different standard. A standard where this mountain top experience is an ongoing transfiguration of Christ, of the World, and of ourselves. And we shouldn’t ever come back down from that. We come together here on this day as a community, to worship, to pray, and to experience together the temporal and the eternal. That is why we break bread together, why we remember, why we baptize, why we renew, why we bother getting up on a Sunday morning to come here. We are seeking the presence of the Transfigured Christ here in this place, and it is good.
Of course we also know that presence doesn’t just reside here, it’s everywhere. The mountain top is the start of the journey for us as followers of Christ, not the goal. The presence of the transfigured Christ is our reality in the Kingdom of God and we should be carrying that with us every day, every minute. Following Christ, the way of the Christian, is a transfigured life, a life where the eternal and the temporal are no longer separate. Where we live in the values of the Kingdom of God while we still await that kingdom to be fully realized. Thought it may look to others as though you are staying on the mountain top, the truth is you are simply forever transfigured. You don’t have to stay physically on the mountain top to keep that experience as the new reality.
What does it mean to you to dwell in the presence of the transfigured Christ? What does your reality look like when you remind yourself you always are dwelling there, and you are there with every single bit of God’s infinite creation? Ponder that this week. Notice the spaces in your life that are full of transfiguration, and notice the places that could use a bit more. As we begin the final walk to the end of Jesus’ ministry we begin with Transfiguration, but every moment of every day it is our duty to be there on that mountain top, in the midst of Christ’s transfiguration. Like Peter said, it is good to be here.