Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Mountaintop (Last Epiphany Year A)

Andy on Wansfell, Summer 2009
Matthew 17:1-9
Today is the Sunday before Lent. Our gospel reading is the story of Jesus and three of the disciples going up to a high mountain and having an amazing experience.
Mountains are wonderful. One of our great pleasures when we lived in England was going to the Lake District and climbing the hills there. Even the names evoke many memories, Conniston Old Man, Blencathra, Hellvelyn, Skiddaw! On a clear day the mountain top views are breathtaking. Yet even in the mists, wind and rain (so often present in the Lake District) there is something very special. A new awareness of the elements, a borderland experience where everything is somehow more real.
Yet, most of our lives are lived in the valley. That is how it needs to be. Historically, towns grew up in valleys. Most of the time our lives are filled with the mundane. We get up, we eat, we work, we have leisure time, we care for others, we sleep. None of these are bad things. They are the elements of our lives and they can be part of a rich, fulfilling life.
Yet, we long for the time when we return for a brief moment to a mountain top.
The transfiguration was such a moment for Peter, James and John who accompanied Jesus. It must have been a tremendous experience. What a privilege!
It showed the disciples that the realm of God is beyond human imagination. It is beyond anything they could have dreamt of. It transcends physical limitations and time. They could not capture it in human structures and keep it for ever.
Maybe we all try to do that. I enjoy photography. I have hundreds of photographs most of them trying to capture mountain top experiences. Yet, at the best, they serve only to aid memory, to help one relive special moments. Perhaps, we are not so different from Peter!
I’m sure this was one of the moments that kept Peter, John and James going throughout their lives. It was like a little snap shot of resurrection life. They saw Moses and Elijah, the greats of their faith who represented the law and the prophets. And they weren’t dead, gone for ever, but alive and talking to Jesus. What a hope for those three disciples!
Do you think they remembered this day at the end of their lives? James as he was being killed with the sword, one of the earliest Christian martyrs. Peter as he was crucified on his cross. John, an old man, exiled on the isle of Patmos.
Of course we know that the voice from heaven directed Peter, James and John not to look to Moses and Elijah but to Jesus. However, I’m still sure that it must have been a tremendous hope and encouragement to them.
So I want us to be thankful for all the high spots on our journey. Those we could term mountain top experiences. The high spots in our lives which create memories that stay with us for ever. Don’t try to separate which experiences are spiritual and which are secular. I believe that all our life is lived in God’s presence. Every experience is a gift from God. A time that sustains you and equips you for future service.
My hope is that we will all experience those times that break into our ordinary, everyday lives, memorable times, mountain top experiences.
There is one interesting thing about this story that I want to add. In Luke’s almost identical version he talks about the conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijah. They were talking about Jesus’ departure. The word Luke used is ‘exodus’.
I think this word was carefully placed by the author. I don’t think it was random, or coincidental. Here was Moses and the talk was of 'exodus’. A journey into freedom. If we look at all the texts following the transfiguration, they can be read as stories of freedom. Therefore, I don’t think the transfiguration story should be read as a conclusion. It is not a proof text to Peter’s declaration that Jesus is indeed the Christ. It is a prelude, the opening chapter of Jesus’ own exodus story.
The exodus story which leads humanity into a new freedom, where all are welcomed.