Makr 9: 2-92 Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed,
3 and his clothes became dazzling white, far whiter than any earthly bleach could ever make them. 4 Then Elijah and Moses appeared and began talking with Jesus.
5 Peter exclaimed, “Rabbi, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
6 He said this because he didn’t really know what else to say, for they were all terrified.
7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.”
8 Suddenly, when they looked around, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus with them.
9 As they went back down the mountain, he told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead
When the apostle John at the end of his long life wrote his gospel, he began by referring to a concept that both Jewish and Greek thinkers had pondered for centuries. They called it the LOGOS, a Greek word that in English means the Word and in the ancient world referred to the great mind or intelligence that brought the Universe into being.
And then John said this about it: ‘We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’It’s almost certain that he was remembering the day when Jesus had taken him and his fellow disciples Peter and James up a high mountain where they saw something no words could express.We call it the Transfiguration of Christ, and today we celebrate it.
For many people, the experience of standing on top of a mountain can be a spiritual experience as well as physical one. That’s why we have come to use the term ‘mountain top experience’ to describe times of special spiritual blessing - moments of new insight, increased spiritual awareness and heightened joy. They don’t come often, but when they do we come away, like the Apostle John, saying, ‘We beheld his glory…full of grace and truth.’
That’s how it was for Peter, James and John when Jesus took them with him up a high mountain and allowed them to witness what we now call, The Transfiguration. They were blessed with a glimpse of a world beyond our earthly experience, and the memory of it stayed with them for ever.
So, what actually happened to Jesus up there on that mountain? Matthew’s gospel says: ‘His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.’ Mark says: ‘His clothesbecame dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.’ Luke says: ‘His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.’
Light is the word often used in the Bible to describe the presence of God. When Peter, James and John saw Jesus transfigured like this it became clear that in him was the very presence of God. As the Apostle Paul was later to say: ‘For in Christ all the fullness of the Godhead lives in bodily form.’
There also appeared to them the sight of two of the greatest characters from the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah, who represent the Law and the Prophets, which is how the Jews designated those scriptures.
But of all the staggering sights and sounds of that day the greatest was that they heard the voice of God. A cloud enveloped them all. It was the same way that God had manifested himself to the people of Israel when they were travelling through the desert, and when they dedicated Solomon’s temple. And then, out of the cloud, they heard a voice which they knew to be the voice of God. It simply said: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’
What those three disciples witnessed on that mountain was something that can only be described as being out of this world. It was one of those rare but sacred moments when God peels back the curtain that separates us from that greater world of spiritual reality and gives us a faint glimpse of Heaven.
Then suddenly, that moment of transcendence was past, and they were there alone. Except that Jesus was still with them, and those words were still ringing in their ears: ‘This is my Son. Listen to him.’
I don’t know who or what were the greatest influences on the lives of Peter, James and John. Like all Jewish men they’d been raised on the words and stories of the Hebrew Scriptures – The Old Testament. I guess they had their heroes like we do and would have been deeply influenced by the teaching of the rabbis and the huge oral tradition that had come to surround the teachings of the Old Testament Law.
But from that moment on every other voice faded into obscurity. They’d heard the voice of God and it said: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” And that is a word to us too.
We live in an age of words, a world full of clamouring voices competing for our attention. We are the victims of information overload. But when we face the biggest questions, who are we, why are we here, where are we going, God says: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’
When John at the start of his gospel begins to tell the story of Jesus and what he said, he specifically talks about Jesus being ‘full of grace and truth. They are two words we need to take to heart.
The first word is grace. This word always means something completely undeserved - something that we could never have earned or achieved for ourselves. But it also has the idea of beauty. In modern Greek the word means charm. Religion usually thinks of God in terms of majesty and judgment. But in Jesus we see the loveliness of God. The second word is truth, and one of the most important themes in the New Testament is that Jesus is the embodiment of the truth.
The greatest minds of history have tried without success to adequately define who and what God is. If that’s true of them, how much more it is of us. Few people can grasp abstract ideas; most people think in pictures. Think for a moment about how hard it is to define beauty. But if you can point at a beautiful person suddenly it all becomes clear.
But after that glorious moment on the mountain, the apostle John tells us we can stop arguing and philosophising about what God is like. Now we just look at Jesus and say: ‘That’s what God is like.’
Jesus didn’t come to talk to people about God; he came to show us what God is like, so that the simplest mind might know him as intimately as the mind of the greatest philosopher. Jesus is the one who, amidst the perplexities of life, makes things clear; who, at the crossroads of life, shows us the right way; who, in the baffling moments of decision, enables us to choose the right way.
Even when Jesus left this earth in the body, he left us his Spirit to guide us into the truth. He didn’t just leave us a wonderful but sometimes confusing book of instruction. He promised us his own Spirit, who would be with us and within us, our constant counsellor and guide into ‘the truth that sets us free’- free from the man-made dogmas that so often enslave us.
The older I get the more convinced I am that one of our greatest needs is to have our own spiritual mountain top experience. And sadly, for many, church services rarely seem to provide it.
One of the great conundrums of modern society is that even though church attendance has fallen, interest in spirituality has risen. There is an enormous sense of spiritual emptiness in the western world. David Tacey, in his best seller, The Spirituality Revolution, wrote: ‘It is our secular society realising that it has been running on empty, and has to restore itself at a deep, primal source…It is our recognition that we have outgrown the ideals and values of the early scientific era which viewed the individual as a sort of efficient machine.’
So how do we find it and why is it that so much of what we do in church fails to provide it?
We do it by creating our own mountain top where we can be still and listen. Somewhere, amidst the bustle of everyday life, we need to create space for silence; a time to be still and to listen to Jesus.
For some people the mountain top is a quiet room at night, with the television turned off for half an hour and the lights turned down low. For others it’s a silent walk along the beach in the early morning, or a quiet half hour in a city park during the lunch break or on the train to work when the other passengers are reading or sleeping.
Whatever it is, we need our quiet spot and uncluttered moment, carved out of our frenetic lifestyles, to simply be still and know God by listening to Jesus. A few moments to read a passage of Scripture and reflect on it; a few moments for prayer, sharing our hearts and minds with God. A few moments for silent meditation as we allow him to bring to our hearts and minds whatever it may be that he wants for us – even if it is only an uncluttered mind and a peaceful heart.
And it may be that sometime, somewhere, we’ll have the additional blessing of one of those rare, yet precious moments, which we’ll look back on and say: ‘We beheld his glory…full of grace and truth.’ Such moments, if they do come, are more likely to come to those who have developed the art of being still and learning to listen.
And so, on this day when we remember the most sublime spiritual experience ever given to humankind, we also remember God’s final word to them and us: ‘This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.’