Have you ever noticed that a lot of churches are built on hills or have a lot of steps you have to climb to get in? In the old days they never thought about accessibility. Building on a hill or having to climb a lot of steps was a way of recognizing the ‘aboveness’ of God. Mountains play a great part in Sacred Scripture – as in today’s gospel. The fact of the matter is we live our lives in the ‘belowness’ on the level plains of life.
In the gospel of the Transfiguration Jesus takes his friends, Peter, James and John out of the level plains of their lives into the ‘aboveness’ of God. Great and wonderful things happened – the very appearance of Jesus is transfigured – they saw Jesus as they never saw Him before. They are startled to see Moses representing the Law, Elijah representing the prophets – talking with Jesus. This is a true religious experience – it must have overwhelmed them. No wonder Peter said,” Lord it is good for us to be here” Then to hear the very voice of God, “This is my Son, My Chosen, listen to Him.” This whole experience allowed Peter, James and John to be part of the ‘aboveness’ of God. It must have been a bit like St. Paul’s experience when he tells of being swept up into the third heaven.
When Luke tells of the appearance of Moses and Elijah he tells us these two were talking with Jesus about his departure that He was to accomplish in Jerusalem. Jesus had been trying to tell the twelve that He would be betrayed, handed over to the authorities and be put to death. They didn’t want to hear this. This shattered all their expectations of a Messiah. As Peter told Jesus, ‘far be this from You Lord, this must never happen to You.’ But it would happen and they would fail to be there with Him and for Him – as scripture says, “I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.’ And scattered they would be.
This sharing in the ‘aboveness’ of God was to prepare them, strengthen them for the coming experiences in the belowness of their lives and the life of Jesus. Luke goes on to tell us that as Jesus brought them down from the mountain and they were met by a large crowd with a desperate father whose son was possessed by a demon. The father begs Jesus to do something, anything for his son. Jesus asks him, ‘do you believe I can do this?’ the poor man didn’t know what to say except, ‘Lord I believe but help the little faith I have.’
This whole gospel story teaches us that we will live most of our lives, maybe all of our lives, on the level plains of belowness. Every now and then we may be blessed with an awareness of God’s love – we may be blessed to know that God saw us through a difficult time and really is with us and cares for us. But most times, when things are rough, we are like the desperate father saying ‘help my unbelief.’
There can be high points in our lives that see us through the low points. They are like rockets bursting in the air. The deep joy of a mother and father holding their new born child in their arms is what gives them the strength to face sleepless night trying to walk that baby to sleep. Even though it may be in the far distant past, that joy helps them see a rebellious teenage son or daughter through the madness of puberty.
The memory of the joy and excitement of a wedding day – if it is kept alive – can see a husband and wife through the struggles that are part and parcel of every married life.
Back to Peter, James and John. These are the same three Jesus took into the garden of Gethsemane – certainly a great ‘belowness’ in their lives and in the life of Jesus. In that dark place they see Jesus sweating blood and begging for His life – pleading, ‘if it is possible, let this chalice pass me by’. In Gethsemane no one said, ‘Lord it is good for us to be here’ – they couldn’t wait to get out of the place and when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, they scattered. The memory of the mountain was lost in the terror of the garden.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass we can pray for ourselves and for each other that there be times when we are blessed to experience the ‘aboveness’ of God, that we be gifted with those moments when we know God loves us, forgives us, sustains us. We pray too that as we live our lives in our belowness we will always have the honesty and courage to pray when things are rough ‘Lord I believe, help the little faith I have.’ In either of these experiences may we always say, “Lord it is good for us to be here.’ Because wherever we are You are there.