26, 2006, Last Sunday After Epiphany, All
Souls' Episcopal Church
On a High Mountain
Mark 9: 2 – 9
On this Last Sunday
After Epiphany, the Gospel reading continues the Epiphany theme of
manifestation of Christ to the world with the account of the Transfiguration
of Jesus on the mountain. This also contains a foreshadowing of the
Resurrection, as Jesus tells Peter, James, and John,
afterwards, to tell no one what they have witnessed "until after the Son of
Man has risen from the dead.”
The image of the shining radiance of Jesus on the
mountain gives us inspiration, strength and hope as we anticipate our Lenten
journey to the cross—which ultimately leads to another kind of transfiguration
in the Resurrection.
Jesus has realized that His ministry will be denounced
and rejected, and that He Himself will be slain in that rejection. Some of
His disciples must be prepared for that rejection and death by being made
aware that there is a glory no execution can
suppress. And so He chooses three disciples, Peter and James and John,
called by some theologians “the inner three”. He leads them up a high
mountain that offers them both privacy and a symbolic closeness to God.
So, here, they get to see the Rabbi who has been teaching them as resplendent,
This is as strange a scene as is in the Gospels. Even
without the voice from the clouds to explain it, they had no doubt what they
were witnessing. It was Jesus of Nazareth all right, the man they tramped many a
dusty mile with, whose mother and brothers they knew, the one they had seen as
tired, hungry, footsore as the rest of them. But, it was also the Messiah, the
Christ, in His glory. It was the holiness of the man shining through His
humanness, His face so afire with it they were almost blinded.
Jesus, then, takes up the primary strands of their
religious tradition. With Him there appeared from heaven: Moses the
Law-giver; and Elijah, who has been counted as head of the line of prophets.
Yet clearly they are subordinate to the transfigured Jesus.
The cloud that manifests God’s presence, envelops all of
them: while the Divine voice declares: “This is my Beloved Son: hear Him”
With the revelation complete, the vision leaves them.
Jesus is once more the Rabbi alone with His disciples. It will not be time
for them to share that vision with other disciples until they come to know
crucifixion and its vindication by Resurrection.
So there is our story recounted to you. Up on the
high mountain, which could have been Mt. Tabor or Mt. Herman, but for Mark, it
could have been any mountain. Location was not important.
Only what happened.
And what happened transcended ideology or theology.
It superceded dogma or doctrine. It went beyond buildings and budgets and
committees and rituals. None of these things could be compared to the
Glory of the moment on this mountain.
What happened on this unnamed mountain, speaking of it as
an allegory, was a dance…..The
Dance…the improvisational magical dance between the Abba….Heavenly Father and
the beloved Son…all caught up in the symphony of the Holy Spirit!
When Peter, James, and John climb the mountain with
Jesus, they have little or no idea of the new “perspective” they are about to be
given. In Luke we find the detail that they had even, at one point, fallen
asleep!! To say that they were unprepared for the “light show” and
unprecedented revelation of this dance is an understatement.
Of all the personal interactions that Jesus had with
these disciples during His ministry, the Transfiguration is the most remarkable.
This experience gave them a new take on reality, and especially a new way of
thinking about the Person of Jesus.
While the disciples did not move directly into believing
that Jesus was the Second Person of the Trinity, they could after this, no
longer see Him as a itinerant carpenter and preacher from Nazareth. That is why
the transfiguration is primarily for these three
disciples, the men who will lead the church in Jerusalem. This is
clear for a number of reasons:
First, Peter’s startling confession earlier at Caesarea
Phillippi is here confirmed: Jesus is the Messiah.
Second, the voice is addressed to
them, (Peter, James and John), not to Jesus:
“This is my Beloved Son: hear Him”. Whereas the Voice at Jesus’ Baptism,
if you will recall, starts with: “You are My Beloved Son”…….speaking
directly to Jesus.
And third, the command, “hear Him!” is meant to override
the disciples’ reluctance to receive the unthinkable news Jesus gave them
earlier with His Passion prediction—that they, too, would have to take up their
cross to follow Him.
The Transfiguration is meant, and means for us today,
that we cannot share the light of the Gospel unless we ourselves
prayerfully seek manifestations of the Lordship of Jesus in our personal
The Gospel is meant to be
experienced. We seek to taste of the “world that is not of this
world” in order to be able to tell others about its importance. Otherwise,
our religion boils down to “ethics” or is reduced to the cultural
equivalent of superglue. In either case, sharing the Gospel with no
personal conviction, can becomes a form of “the bland leading the bland.", and
evangelism, then, becomes a “moral” cause, rather than an irresistible urge to
share the story that has touched, if not changed, our lives.
And now, another very important point: C. Robert Allred
writes that the experience of the Transfiguration necessarily leads us to
“Peter, John and James enjoyed the Mountain Top
Experience of seeing Jesus in all of His Glory, but Peter was dead wrong in
wanting to build tabernacles or “booths” or buildings for permanence. Jesus knew
that their ministry with people lay, not on the mountaintop, but in the valley
My friends, our ministry
is in the valleys of life where people are hurting! The world needs so
desperately the Christian message of love, compassion, forgiveness,
transfiguration and resurrection. How bad does the world need this?
A number of years ago, the publishers of a new history
encyclopedia asked 28 educators, historians and journalists to rate the most
significant events in world history. Here is their list in descending order:
Columbus’ discovery of America
Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type for the printing press
Eleven events were tied for third place
In fourth place was a four-way tie: the U.S. Constitution, X-ray
discovery, flight of the Wright Brothers, and………..
.....Jesus Christ crucified!
Think about it:
Jesus Christ is fourth place, and it is a tie! There are those who
might have Him in a lower place than this.
Evil remains rampant in our world. Forces threaten human
life. Families are more fragile than ever. Disease seems more
prevalent. Just when science develops a cure for one malady, another comes
forth. Poverty, hunger, crime, violence, racism, elitism, and the
realization that we are in a world war against terrorism……..are all part of our
societal fabric today.
But ours is still a message of hope and redemption.
It is the same message that Jesus commissioned the first disciples to go into
all the world and proclaim. Not only do we have our life
transfiguring experiences here, we march forth possessed by the power to
proclaim hope, down in the valley, to a hurting world of humanity that God so
Spiritual growth is rarely linear. If we ask, we
will receive. If we seek, we
will find. When we knock, it
will be opened . That is the promise of
Jesus, and sometime a measure of Transfiguration occurs.
Yes, even with you and me something like this happens
once in awhile
I read a short account of a man who visited Evelyn
Underhill before her death in l94l. She was one of the authors I studied
before my ordination many years ago. She was a prolific writer and the
great teacher of the mystical life. This man visited her at her Campden
Hill Square house after one of her bad illnesses. She was seated facing a
glowing fire. He said, (and I quote) “As I entered, she got up and turned
around, looking so fragile that a puff of wind might blow her away, but light
simply streamed from her face which was illumined with a radiant smile.
One could feel that there and then one was in the presence of the Mystery of the
Lord’s Transfiguration……..in one of the members of His mystical body.” (end of
But in all reality, the experience does not have to be so
intense and dramatic…….I see a measure of transfiguration in a man walking with
his grandson in a park, of a woman happily working the soil in her garden, of
the most unlikeliest looking person listening to a concert at the civic center,
of a child standing in the sand at the beach watching the waves roll in at
sunset, or of you or me having a beer with close friends at a baseball game in
July. Ever once and so often, something so touching, so incandescent, so full of
love, so full of brotherly love, so full of the Holy Spirit, so
alive transfigures the human face that it is
almost beyond bearing.
Nothing takes the place of Jesus Christ, the only
Begotten Son, on the Mount of Transfiguration in the Spiritual Dance He
experienced as He was Transfigured with His Heavenly Father. You and I, however,
as believers, must be always open to the workings of our Heavenly Father and the
possibilities as we come down from the mountain and move into the valley of need.
As we begin out Lenten journey next week on Ash
Wednesday, and as a believer in Jesus Christ,
How will your life be transfigured?
“In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost”