Mountain tops are always special places. The summit, the very top – is a place where there is nowhere else to go except into another dimension of sky and space – or back down into the more mundane world.
Everything of the world of buildings, roads, shops, daily life – even of trees and habitations – seems far away, small and insignificant. Sometimes cloud like a blanket may fill the valleys – leaving grey skies for those below while the mountain tops enjoy brilliant sun.
In some countries people erect massive crosses on the tops of some mountains – perhaps expressing their sense of a spiritual dimension to the mountain top.
Spiritually we refer to” mountain top experiences” such as times of special clarity, of faith gained or renewed, of enlightenment, or joy, understanding, inspiration or hope. Mountain top experiences are usually all too quickly followed by a need to return to the mundane and everyday.
For the disciples chosen to accompany Jesus to the mountain top where the transfiguration took place – we have to wonder what the experience meant in the days and weeks and years after the event. We know that at the time they were struck with awe and fear and were not sure how to react. But what of later in the months and years after the event?
The passage we have read today from 2 Peter makes it clearer what was the lasting impact on an eyewitness.
When we think of the story of the transfiguration we usually focus on the light, the brightness but it is rather the sound, the words that were heard that have most impact on our eyewitness. The voice of God from the cloud in that moment of glory and honour and majesty says “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him”. It is the voice that caused the disciples to fall on the ground in fear.
Light, the shining glow was amazing but it was the voice they heard that was most incredible and awe-inspiring. The voice confirmed Jesus as the Son of God, the Christ. Light can glow and dazzle and sparkle and astound our eyes but a voice from heaven is incredible and terrifying.
Jesus told those on the mountain with him to say nothing of what they had experienced until “after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead” which surely made no sense to them at the time.
This mountain top experience was not just a moment of amazing light and glory – it affirmed Jesus as Christ and it acted as a prophetic moment. It linked Jesus into the whole Jewish tradition and history through the brief appearance of Elijah and Moses. It affirmed God’s enduring faithfulness and present blessing but it also pointed forward to a time beyond that present moment – to a time the disciples could not yet know or comprehend after the resurrection and even beyond that to a time of glory in the future, the second coming of Christ.
And so we hear the eyewitness tell the early church that it would “do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts!”. The exhortation to be attentive to Christ was not just for those on the mountain top, but now in the post Easter, post Resurrection, post Ascension world it is for all the church. The exhortation is to pay heed to this momentary revelation of Christ’s glory and look for its fulfilment in the second coming of the Christ. Hold fast to the prophetic dimension of the transfiguration to inspire hearts in the present and long for the light and glory of Christ to transform even the dark places of this life.
When pondering about this sermon last week I was reminded of a book I read 40 years ago for “A” Level French – Vol de Nuit by Antoine de Saint Exupery about” bush pilots” in South America flying small mail planes through the night. These are the very early days of commercial flying and there are none of the computer aids enjoyed by pilots today. One solo pilot finds himself not just flying through the night but caught in a bad storm that blocks out all light and any landmark. Ultimately this pilot chooses to gain altitude until he finally breaks through the storm clouds to where he knows there will be light and landmarks – the moon and stars and maybe even the amazing sight of the approaching dawn. He gains altitude to find the lights that have aided navigation throughout history.
Believing the light is there even when it seems hidden, holding on to the promise of glory can pull us through the dark times of life and draw our hearts and minds upwards to look to God and trust in his word, his truth and his glory.
This brings us to the last point made in our 2 Peter reading – the exhortation to hold to what it truly prophetic from God, to God’s word and not to ideas and interpretations just thought up by people.
True prophecy is inspired by the Holy Spirit in the words of men and women. True prophecy enlightens our heart, emboldens us to seek after Christ. It deepens our love for others and draws us into deeper communion with God.
The Transfiguration was not just a strange event for the benefit of a chosen few on a mountain top – it was an affirmation for all of Christ’s identity, a foretaste of Christ’s risen and ascended glory and a promise of the second coming. It is a call to all of us to heed the word of God and to follow Christ’s way, listening to his authentic voice.
As we turn our eyes to Lent and Easter let us hold in our hearts the promise of the Transfiguration. God, incarnate in Jesus, the Christ, lived among us, died for us, and rose in glory and leads us also to glory, bringing us into the light and splendour of his glorious kingdom.
May we daily aspire to let Christ dwell in us, inspiring us, drawing us from the dark places in our lives into the transforming glory of his presence. A presence we can know now in the joy of our hearts and in the light shining in the darkness and a presence we can look forward to as a prophetic promise of eternal life in God’s unending Kingdom.
Reader Anne Grant
Readings for the sermon and links: