Back in November of 2010 a group from the parish went on a trip to the Holy Land. One of the places we visited was the mount of the transfiguration. It was an awesome place. Our bus took us up a winding, precarious mountain road. Half way up we had to get into smaller vehicles to reach the top of the mountain. There was a beautiful garden and a large church commemorating the event of today’s gospel. There were two small chapels attached to the church – one for Moses and one for Elijah. There were lookouts from which we could see for miles across the valleys below.
I really don’t think this was the place of the gospel event. Luke doesn’t say they went to the top of the mountain. They went up the mountain and found a place where they could have peace and quiet. If they climbed to the top it would have been quite a difficult venture and taken them a number of days. It was difficult enough for us on the bus.
But it was in this quiet place on the mountain that Jesus gave his close friends, Peter, James and John a glimpse of his glory. While he was praying, while he was in the presence of his Father his face changed and his clothes became dazzling white. Peter, James and John saw Jesus as they’d never seen him before. To add to the wonder of it all Moses and Elijah – representing the law and the prophets of the past – appeared and spoke with Jesus about what was to happen to him in Jerusalem.
Just a few days before this Jesus told the twelve, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and the scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised.” It was a subject they didn’t want to talk about. As Peter said to Jesus, “this must never happen to you.”
Peter was so awed by this vision of Christ’s glory he wanted to stay there forever. It is good for us to be here. We’ll build three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah. This was not going to happen. They were overshadowed by a cloud representing the presence of God and then they heard words that were meant for all of us, “This is my Son, the beloved, listen to him.”
Giving them the rest of the day to let all this sink in Jesus led them down the mountain. They were met by a large crowd and in the crowd was a desperate father whose son, his only son, was suffering from seizures that made him do violent things. Naturally this father begged Jesus for help. Naturally Jesus cured the son and everybody was happy. But I think Jesus used this encounter to teach Peter, James and John a lesson; life is not lived on a mountain of spiritual highs, life is lived in the valley of struggle, doubt, trust and compassion.
The accounts of the passion of Jesus tell us that Jesus took Peter, James and John with him to the garden of Gethsemane. There they saw Jesus as they’d never seen him before, on his knees, sweating blood, praying as anyone of us would pray as we face a great crisis, “let this chalice pass me by.” They probably were totally confused by this experience just as they were totally awed by the experience on the mountain. No one said, “Lord it is good for us to be here” in Gethsemane. When Jesus looked for the support of his friends he found them sleeping, blocking out the heaviness and harshness of what they saw. Jesus complained to Peter, “could you not stay awake with me one hour?” They couldn’t. Seeing Jesus in this desperate state was so far removed from their mountain experience.
What does all this have to say to us? We know from experience that life is not lived on the mountain of spiritual highs. We may at times feel the closeness of God and know in our own way that God loves, cares for, forgives and heals us. There are other times when God seems distant from us, we wonder if he hears our prayers, cares about our struggles or forgives our sins.
Christ told us that he is so close to us, cares that much about us that even the hairs on our heads are counted. Whether we find ourselves in the brightness of the mountain or in the darkness of the garden, we are never alone. Whether we on a mountain high or in a deep valley we are all called to stay awake and trust the first reality of our faith Jesus Christ died for each one of us and his love for us never fails. Where ever we find ourselves, on the mountain or in the valley the words of our Father still ring true – this is my son, the chosen one, listen to him.