Summary: we learn the most from our mountaintop experiences; Trransfiguration of Jesus
Even as a child, I loved to watch clouds – as they moved, changed shapes and colors – they fascinated me. If you follow my Facebook page, you know I am frequently posting hundreds or maybe even a thousand pictures of sunrises and sunsets and the formation of clouds that surround them. Some people have even accused me of being obsessed with clouds. When I was a little girl, my friends and I would lie in the grass and analyze cloud shapes – a horse? a boat? a dragon? a face? The interesting thing was that rarely did any two of us see the same thing – different experiences conjured up different impression in our minds.
As in so many passages in the Bible, we read about the Transfiguration of Jesus told in a language we can only accept as a metaphor.
In this modern world, we do not expect, or even look for, a literal appearance of God on mountaintops, . . . in clouds, . . . in mystical or supernatural appearances, . . . or actually talking to us today. But that is exactly what our gospel reading is about:
While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)
The ancient Biblical writers often used clouds when they depicted important occasions when God was dealing with his people. We can recall:
• When the Israelites fled from Egypt, a pillar of cloud led them by day.
• When Moses climbed up Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God, a cloud descended upon the mountain, obscuring it. The people looked up, and they could no longer see Moses.
• When God instructed the Israelites to construct a portable tabernacle, God filled the tent with his Presence in the form of a cloud.
• And, later, when Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, once again a cloud filled the sanctuary.
So, in our Scripture reading, when the cloud descended over the mountaintop with Jesus, Peter,
John and James…
we shouldn’t be surprised.
The scripture writers, once again, were depicting a time when the Presence of God was enveloping them, as the Presence of God has done time and time again to His faithful people.
It is this Biblical account of Jesus’ transfiguration occurring on a mountaintop – as well as the experience of Moses at Mount Sinai in the Hebrew Bible, that has given rise to the commonly used term ‘mountaintop experience’ – a moment of such intense joy and beauty in one’s life that we are somehow changed – and never forget it.
To depict God, appearing as a cloud, says something important about God. Clouds are not crystal clear, but rather dense and opaque. But, also within clouds is brilliant light, reflecting from and off the clouds. That is a great mystery; how can something opaque and dense put forth brilliant light.
So, perhaps then, it is fitting that clouds are used to remind us of the mystery of God – the lack of clarity and precision, the sense of wonder and transformation.
In our world we want to know things. We want Google at our fingertips to tell us everything about anything, and we want Facebook to instantly tell us everything else—like what our friends had for dinner, or how mom’s cruise is going. We humans have a hunger and thirst for knowledge; we have always been curious and wanted answers, the facts. And, as technology has advanced through the millennia, we want more and more knowledge, provable tangible facts within our grasp immediately and at all times.
And, as Christians, we are no different in our quest for answers about our relationship with God. We want to know specifics about God, and our relationship with him. Moreover, we want to know why we are here, what is the meaning of life, where is God, and where will we be after death – none of this ‘now we see through a glass darkly’, or in a cloud. We want to know how this story, or that proverb, or this anecdote applies to our life. What it really means. And, we want to know right now, on demand. We don’t want to wait!
So, what really did happen to Jesus and Peter and James and John on that mountaintop? How could we understand what this biblical story means for us? Can we be transfigured on a mountaintop? Or do life-changing moments of mystery and wonder not happen today? Does God no longer ‘speak’ to us?
Life is full of mountaintop experiences. They are the times when we find healing, or unexpected love, when we suddenly have an ‘aha’ moment and clearly know the answer to a problem or important life decision.