Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday, the conclusion to the church season of Epiphany. (I wrote about the light of Epiphany here). The story of Jesus’ transfiguration fascinates me on several levels. Partly it is the description of Jesus (“the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white” Luke 9:29). Partly it is the sudden arrival of Moses and Elijah, long-dead prophets whose ministries foreshadowed Jesus’ own mission. Partly it is God’s command, “Listen!” A big part is the location, a mountain.
Mountains have always been spiritual place. Humans have climbed peaks to seek the heaven throughout our history. Moses climbed Mt. Sinai to receive the ten commandments directly from God (Exodus 20). Elijah ran away to Mount Horeb, the mount of God, where he encountered God in the sound of sheer silence (I Kings 19:11-13). Solomon’s temple was built on Mount Zion and the psalmist sang about its beauty,
His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion (Psalm 48:1-2).
So when Jesus took his closest disciples, Peter, James and John, up the mountain to pray, they should not have been surprised that God met them there in a special way.
I enjoy climbing mountains (I wrote about one here). On occasion I have used an ice axe and rope, but mostly I climb mountains that anyone in decent physical shape can scramble up. A climb becomes both a physical and spiritual challenge. I gain a sense of perspective sitting on top of a peak: how very large the world is and how very small I am. As I gaze across the surrounding peaks, I realize that God is in charge. The glory of his creation surrounds me and uplifts me.
But mountains have a darker side as well. The first significant mountain story in the Bible is when God ordered Abraham to take his son Isaac up on a mountain in order to sacrifice him (Genesis 22). The Israelite often created shrines to the Canaanite fertility gods on the mountain tops.
O mortal, set your face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them, and say, You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God! . . . , I myself will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places. Your altars shall become desolate, and your incense stands shall be broken; and I will throw down your slain in front of your idols (Ezekiel 6:2-4).
The darkest mountain of all is Mount Calvary or Golgotha where Jesus was crucified. Not much more than a hilltop outside of Jerusalem, yet the darkness of human sin caused the sky to turn black as Jesus cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Mountains can be places of terrifying death as well as peaks of glorious enlightenment.
Yet whether hidden in darkness or bathed in sunlight, God’s glorious love is the bedrock of each peak. Mountains call us to trust in God in all circumstances. Jesus came to bring all creation back into full spectrum of God’s love, including you and me.
Shine, Jesus, shine in me today.