#54: The Big Mountain

Matthew 17:1–13

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.

Everyone needs a mountain top experience from time to time. This was Jesus’.

A few years ago I found myself on the way to Mount Horeb in Israel, the scene of today’s story. As the coach pulled into the car park I was terrified at the sight of the tacky, little ski-lift that lay ahead. As someone who is frightened of heights, it was something to be dreaded not anticipated. But I was determined to make the ride, partly because I was leading the party, secondly because I wanted to get to the top of the Mount of Transfiguration.

Swaying around on my wobbly little seat with a couple of hundred feet of fresh air below me was every bit as terrifying as I had anticipated. I suppose at this stage you are expecting me to say that despite all my fears it was worth it when I got to the top. Well, the truth is it wasn’t. Once I was up there I spent all my time wondering how I was going to get down. I didn’t have a mountain top experience on Mount Horeb, but Jesus did. In fact, not just Jesus but Peter, James and John, his ‘inner three’ were all pulled into it too. It appears to be a deeply mystical, out of body and beyond the bounds of possibility experience. But then given that Jesus was the divine word, the one and only Son of God and the most special human being (Son of Man) that ever walked this planet I think that the odd supernatural experience is allowable.

Jesus shines like the sun.
He glows, his face radiant.
Moses and Elijah,
The two great spiritual heavyweights of the Old Testament,
They are there to offer support.
The three disciples,
Jaws dropping, are all wondering and not understanding.
And then the voice,
The voice which links it all back to the baptism.
The voice of God,
And then on the way down,
The voice of Jesus,
Looking ahead to the resurrection.

The whole thing points from Earth to Heaven. Jesus and the disciples have climbed above the normal, the everyday, the routine, the usual. They have looked into the distance, the distant past and the distant future. That is largely why people climb mountains, to see into the distance. To see beyond the normal, to look down and see the everyday routine as so many ants scrambling about in the dust. To see beauty, mystery, light and shade.

Here on the mountain top, they see, get excited and begin to feel things they have never felt before.

Now here’s the thing about mountain top experiences. You don’t have to go up a mountain to have one. It can come to you whilst you wander around the park, whilst loosing yourself in a great hymn or sitting in your favourite armchair and reading the bible at the beginning of the day. You do need to find a bit of escape, a bit of silence and space, your mind does need to soar above the everyday routine. And then you are ready to dream the dream and get excited.

‘The Who’ get it right:

Listening to you, I get the music.
Gazing at you, I get the heat.
Following you, I climb the mountain.
I get excitement at your feet.
Right behind you, I see the millions.
On you, I see the glory.
From you, I get opinions.
From you, I get the story.

Lord God,
Heavenly Father,
Help me to be silent.
To listen,
To gaze,
To wonder,
To hear.
And then take me,
Up the mountain.