Summary: The invitation to climb the mountain of Transfiguration is an invitation of Jesus’ to encounter God afresh, then to see ourselves, God’s purpose in our lives, and the world, in a different light.
Mark 9:2-9 The Transfiguration: Seeing Jesus – and our discipleship – in a New Light
Through our Gospel verses this morning we are invited to accompany Jesus and his chosen disciples as they climb a mountain, and there experience a wondrous moment – a turning-point in the lives of the special companions of Jesus who witness it. And as we descend the mountain once again, we are invited to respond to what we have experienced as we live out our lives of discipleship today.
But first, to begin at the beginning of our journey that day. In our imaginations we follow Jesus, Peter, James and John as they begin to ascend the mountainside. Perhaps in their silent walking they were remembering Jesus’ words to them some days earlier, as he said to them: “lf any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Jesus also spoke about what good it would do to anyone if they gained the whole world, yet forfeit their life. I wonder what the disciples made of these sayings of Jesus, and whether they were puzzling over them as they climbed.
On we climb, ascending all the time – further and further away from the ‘world’ and all its complexities and distractions. They (we) are purposely retreating from the ‘world’ to spend time in prayer and isolation. Then we stop. We come to a halt, and we are glad of it because we are tired and heavy with sleep. We sit down and note that Jesus is already deep in prayer. And as we relax we begin to feel very sleepy indeed! But just as we are about to ‘drop off’ to sleep, we see something incredible that immediately makes us wide awake again! Jesus’ face is shining, as if he is lit from within! We can see a definite light – getting stronger and stronger – radiating from him and his clothing. Then through the cracks on our fingers, as we shield our eyes from the now over-powering light, we see two figures – one standing either side of Jesus. There they are, speaking with Jesus, the two great prophets of old – Moses and Elijah! And we can just hear the words they exchange with Jesus, about what he will accomplish in Jerusalem.
Then Peter, quite overcome with excitement, and displaying his characteristic spontaneity, without thinking what he’s saying, suggests it would be a good idea to mark this incredible event with the building of three tents – one each for Jesus and the two prophets. But before the words leave his lips, a great cloud envelops us, which brings great fear to our hearts. Then we feel God’s presence and hear God’s voice as he speaks: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.” Suddenly, Jesus is alone again. And as we descend the mountainside again – as we return to the ‘world’ we had temporarily left behind – we have a great deal to reflect upon. We say nothing about what we have witnessed to anyone, for some considerable time, as Jesus had instructed.
Well, what an amazing event! What an incredible experience! Who says that following Jesus is boring! Yet still we ponder the meaning of what we did that day, what we saw and heard. Right to this, our present day – today!
Next Sunday (March 1st) we begin our ‘travelling’ through the weeks of Lent. And perhaps this season of Lent (if we observe the Lenten discipline seriously) – this time of searching, of seeking a closer relationship with God, of temporarily leaving aspects of the ‘world’ behind – helps us to understand a little deeper the importance of what happened all that time ago, there on the mountain.
First of all, Lent has traditionally been a time of ‘giving things up’. A time of relinquishing some of those ‘worldly’ things that can so often pre-occupy us, so that we can concentrate upon our need of – our dependence upon – God, and to respond to God’s will. The disciples Peter, James and John did this – on a much bigger scale perhaps – with Jesus as they left the world behind them to climb that mountain and to that encounter with God. Lent is a time for renewing relationship with God and, in response to our encounter with God, to return to the world with a renewed vitality and vision about where God is calling us to go – just as God called Jesus to Jerusalem.
A second point about the Transfiguration event is emphasised by Peter’s desire to permanently mark it by building three tents on the spot. A sort of shrine perhaps; a memorial so to speak, where pilgrims forevermore could go and pray. Yet, as important as the Transfiguration experience was THERE and THEN, to the disciples who witnessed it THERE and THEN, it is far more important HERE and NOW! It is of LASTING importance, because it is an experience that transformed the lives of the disciples, as they were later to exercise their ministry in the world. In their witnessing the Transfiguration of Jesus, they heard him being AFFIRMED in his destiny, and this destiny as being God’s will. They saw Jesus (quite literally!) in a new light – the saw him as he truly was – God’s Son, the Chosen One. Certainly, after the event, the disciples needed time to reflect upon what all this meant for them, and what it would continue to mean as time went on. They had had their eyes opened to the truth about the nature and purpose of God; of how God is working through Jesus – and they glimpse the possibilities of God working through them too, as Jesus disciples.