Hymns: 1)18 guide me, O my great redeemer 2) 183 Jesus, take us to the mountain 3) 182 We Have come at Christ’s own bidding
CALL TO WORSHIP
Leader: God calls us to the mountaintop.
People: God, we come!
L: Christ invites us to the place where we can truly see.
P: God, we are here!
L: The Spirit offers us a revelation of our Redeemer.
All: Open our eyes to your presence, O God, and transform us with your love.
INVOCATION AND LORD’S PRAYER
God of transforming love, open our eyes so that we may experience your glory. Teach us to direct our vision toward heavenly things. Show us the way of light and life and love, so that we may truly be the Body of Christ in the world. We pray as Jesus taught us: “Our Father…”
What do you expect when you go up a mountain? A challenge climbing it. The changes as you get higher. The wind as you bear the top. A view. Perspective: the world, so big, and I am so small. A new way of seeing the world. A long view.
What did they expect when Jesus took them up the mountain? Some of those things. And probably too as they worked their way to the top they remembered other mountains. Sinai where Moses received the law. Carmel where Elijah triumphed over the prophets of Baal. A place where God is often manifest, as on Zion, the smaller mountain in the center of Jerusalem, where the temple was.
This was a time of respite, they surely thought. Jesus had been getting mobbed everywhere he went, with people who wanted to hear him teach, and people who wanted to have him heal, and also people who wanted to prove that Jesus was wrong, wrong, wrong.
We all have those days, where it is EXHAUSTING to do the right thing, and everyone seems to be taking away little pieces of you. So hard. I feel sure that Peter and James and John thought so. And, somewhere in the back of their minds, somewhere in the back of OUR minds, was the question, does Jesus need a break? Does he sometimes need a break from US? After all, all of the followers of Jesus, then and now, have struggled to get it. Have whined at Jesus about how HARD it is to do this, to be kind and compassionate and forgiving. Have wanted to throw it all on him. Who are we to do this to him? Who is he to take it?
That question, who is this man, resounds throughout Mark’s gospel. The people wonder it: who is this who teaches with authority? The Pharisees wonder it: who does he think he is, to say such things? Jesus’ own apostles wonder it: who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? We wonder it too, even though we know some things that the people in the story do not.
And so up the mountain they go, to who knows what. The gospel says Jesus led Peter and James and John up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, gleaming with a dazzling brightness, like they had never seen. What is this!! Who is this?? We don’t have their reaction but you know it was dramatic, not unlike certain shepherds in the fields when the heavens broke open to proclaim that Emmanuel, God-with-us, had come.
Because that is what’s being shown here, isn’t it? That Jesus, the humble carpenter, the teacher, the healer, the one who dares to speak up for the poor and the downtrodden, is actually much more than he seems, he is the one they had waited for, the Messiah, the Anointed one, the Christ. But it’s really too much to just take in, isn’t it? The mind resists. How can he be both of these things? How could any of this be true?
When their vision clears, the apostles discover they are not alone on the mountain. Jesus was talking with those other two mountain guys, Moses, who received the law and all its authority when encountered God on Sinai, and Elijah, who bested the false prophets on Carmel, and then fled to a mountain cave where he encountered God NOT in the fearsome power of fire and wind and earthquake but in a still, small voice. And Jesus is with them, talking with them.
Not surprisingly, they are FREAKED OUT. Anyone would be!! Who is this? What is this? Peter, who from the day he was called has always jumped right into it, offers to build dwellings, tents, to create a place of hospitality for the two great guests and for his master, now revealed in his own greatness.
What would you do, if you saw this. If you saw Jesus first as the person just like us, and then suddenly transfigured into his divine self. Christians have always struggled with how Jesus could be fully God and fully human, and that is what we see in this story. But what about us? We never get to see him either as the humble man or as the dazzling apparition. And our world doesn’t get to see him that way either. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself, here.
In the midst of their fear, a cloud comes down on top of the mountain, overshadowing everything. I expect that the apostles were still dazzled, as you are when you come inside after being out in the bright light. This kind of thing leaves a mark. And from the cloud comes a voice, just like the one that came at Jesus’ baptism, when the dove descended. And what that voice says is the same thing: This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him! And then it’s over. The light is out, the apparitions are gone, and all there is, is Jesus.
God doesn’t walk the earth as a carpenter from Galilee any more. That happened, and its time is done. God doesn’t explode into a burning bush or a mighty power carving laws into stone. We are more like Elijah in this story. We know about the wind of God’s creating presence, and how that wind blew on the red sea and parted the waters. We know the stories about God’s spirit leading the people in a pillar of fire, and we know the many times that God’s presence was announced by the earthquake. But God doesn’t speak in those things to us any more than God spoke to Elijah that way. God speaks in a still small voice within. God speaks in a strong, confident voice that challenges the Pharisees and anyone who would preach hatred in the name of God. God speaks in a commanding voice that says, you are forgiven, get up and live. God speaks in a compelling voice that says, follow me. God speaks in Jesus’ voice, in the Spirit’s whisper, when we pray, when we hear the story again, when we ask, over and over, what is this! Who is this?
This is Jesus. When se see him as he truly is, he is like us. And yet, when we see him as he truly is, he is like God. He is the anointed one, and we are about to enter a period when we reflect again on what that means, on the road he walked in this life, a path that goes to the cross but does not end there. He is God’s Son, the beloved. And we are his followers, commanded to listen to him, and then to go and tell the world.