Can you remember that perfect spot? A place you might have been on holiday, perhaps at the beach, on the river or in the mountains. Perhaps it is a special place in your own home that is sacred to you. Close your eyes and place yourself there in that perfect spot. There are no bills to pay, no doctor’s appointments, no stress. We all have this place where we feel at one with nature and at peace with ourselves, and somehow closer to God. Are you there?
This is where Peter, James, and John found themselves in our story from Matthew. They climbed a mountain with Jesus and sat with him on the mountaintop. This was already a privilege for them because Jesus had chosen them for his inner circle, his VIP entourage so to speak. They were already excited and they were in anticipation of what was to come. Then it happened. Jesus was transfigured; the Greek might be better translated to metamorphosed or changed into something glorious. His face shone like the Sun, his clothes were a dazzling, brilliant white.
Mountains are important in the life of people in the bible. Both Elijah and Moses had encounters with God on mountains. Elijah had defeated the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, Moses had received the law and he had seen the glory of God on Mount Sinai. In the account today we find Jesus, and three of his closest disciples on a mountainside, probably mount Hermon. They were on a mountain away from the general routine of daily life, where the air was rarefied, a private place, where the cloud between earth and heaven was to be very thin.
On the mountain they experienced something wonderful, something awesome and they wanted to stay. Peter wanted to build shelters, and make the moment permanent, but staying on the mountain can stop us ministering to those around us. Somehow by faith we have to make sense of mountain experiences and move on.
Moses had gone up the mountain to seek God for his people, and receive the law. The people saw that he had been with God for his face shone.
Jesus went up the mountain to pray and seek God for strength for the ordeal that was to come and he like Moses shone.
The disciples were to see something amazing, Jesus transfigured or changed before their very eyes. His clothes are a dazzling white, his face shining like the sun. For a brief time the veil of his humanity was lifted, and his true essence was allowed to shine through. The glory that was always in the depths of his being rose to the surface for that one time in his earthly life. Or to put it another way, he slipped back into eternity, to his pre-human glory. Jesus makes reference to this in His prayer recorded in John 17 ‘so now Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed’. The disciples were to hold on to this moment in the dark days that were to follow. Years later John wrote in his gospel, ‘we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son’. You can be sure he was remembering the transfiguration.
Jesus totally changed was talking to Moses and Elijah – two saints that had died or ceased to exist in this life centuries before were now recognisable to the disciples. I know I have said this before but I find this extraordinary. How did the disciples know who they were? No introductions, no name labels, no photos’ yet they knew; for us then a wonderful confirmation that we will recognise people in heaven. It also tells us that heaven is very close, one minute they were talking to Jesus the next they had gone.
If ever there was a time for silence this was it. But enter Peter, a man who always had something to say, even when there was nothing to be said. He wanted to build a permanent camp site – he wanted to capture the moment. But rather than criticise Peter maybe we need to try to get into his head.
He wanted to build shelters or tents.
He wanted to make the moment permanent.
He wanted to hold on to this moment - for he knew life would never be quite the same again.
There were just the four of them, six if you count Moses and Elijah.
A moment of peace- a moment of quite and of glory.
No crowds pleading for miracles
No lepers begging for healing
No Pharisees spoiling for a fight
Just Jesus in his splendour a million miles away from the clamouring world below.
Can we blame Peter then for wanting to stay?
We can’t stop the clock either.
We can’t store up the special moments and keep them untarnished by the march of time.
As they say ‘life goes on’ and we have to go with it.
On the whole we don’t like change
We don’t like uncertainty, we like routine, familiarity.
We like our tents around us.
Jeanette and Andy have decided to strike camp and pitch their tent somewhere else, moving on with God. We who remain are moving into areas of uncertainly - and we must come down from the mountain and face our tomorrows.
Luke is a brilliant storyteller, and there are gems in his account that are not in the other Gospels
Luke tells us the disciples nearly missed it. They were weighed down with sleep, it seems they were often tired. Luke shows us how the disciple’s eyes were opened to the glory of Jesus. When they are fully awake they see Jesus in his glory they see a vision.
On the night of 31 August 651 the young man Cuthbert was guarding sheep against robbers and wild animal. He was only 16 years old but possessed a spear and a horse. While he stayed alert and watching, the shepherds slept. The night was clear and full of stars, during the night Cuthbert suddenly saw angels descending to the earth and then ascending, taking with them a soul to heaven. Cuthbert sought to awaken the shepherds but they missed seeing what he saw. This made Cuthbert say, ‘What wretches we are, given to sleep and sloth, so that we never see the glory of those who watch with Christ unceasingly’. The next day Cuthbert leant that Aidan had died and he then went and offered himself to become a monk at the monastery of Melrose. True vision nearly always demands obedience and a change of direction.
Peter James and John were changed after this experience. Not just seeing Jesus in his glory, not just seeing a vision of Moses and Elijah, but hearing the voice of God. Years later Peter was to write in his epistle ‘we ourselves heard this voice when we were with him on the mountain’ they were changed because they had a glimpse of glory. We will be different people as we continue to meet with Jesus. We won’t be changed overnight but as the Wesley hymn says ‘changed from glory into glory till in heaven we take our place, till we cast our crowns before him lost in wonder love and praise.’
If we are honest most of us don’t have mountaintop experiences too often, we are people of the plateau, experiencing the everyday walk with its ups and downs. We are mostly like the disciples who had been left behind at the bottom of the mountain and found that they couldn’t heal the boy with his demons. We sometimes find it completely bewildering to understand all that God is doing and saying, both in times of joy and in our times of sadness. But the word that comes to us, leading us on to follow Jesus even when we haven’t a clue what is going on, is the word that came from the cloud on that strange day on the mountain. ‘This is my son, my chosen one. Listen to him.’
This Transfiguration was just a taste of what is to come, just like in the Supermarket when they give out free samples ‘a taster’ of things they are trying to sell. We have had a taste of glory in this story this morning.
The Transfiguration put Jesus on a new path. Moses and Elijah were encouraging Him to follow the plan that God had for him. As he came down from the mountain Jesus was more resolute and determined than ever. He would enter into Jerusalem with confidence, even though he knew what was to come. We do not have to be afraid of stepping out onto our own paths or the path that God has for us as a Benefice, even on days when it feels like dark clouds cover the sun. It is easy to let dark events of life hide from us the glory and presence of God. It is then we need to know that, even if we lose our grip, we are safe in the hand of God and in the heart of his Son Jesus who says to us, just as he said to the disciples ‘Arise do not be afraid’ because Jesus is with us every step of the way.
Let us pray.
Thanks be to God for the moments of wonder, the glimpses of glory in times like today and in the little things that shine with his presence and then are gone, Keep that light shining within us on the difficult days and when belief is hard and duty is a burden. As we move on, may we stay awake, and not miss the vision, may we be transformed by Christ’s glory, hear Gods voice and be obedient. Amen
I leave you with words that were written by a Jewish prisoner of war on the wall of his cell.
I believe in the sun even when it is not shining.
I believe in love even when I cannot feel it.
I believe in God even when he is silent.