Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.
Right back on the 6th of January (the 12th day of Christmas) we celebrated Epiphany. Epiphany means, to see in a new way the glory of God. In January we heard again from Matthew’s Gospel the story of the wise men coming to see Jesus. Ever since then we have been in the season of Epiphany, hopefully seeing yet more glimpses of the glory of God in Jesus. The Church gives us the story of the Transfiguration as the high point, the culmination of this time of seeing God’s glory.
This story is not just the high point of Epiphany for us but in the Gospels, it is the High point of the ministry of Jesus before heading to Jerusalem. Up until now in the Gospels, Jesus had been in Galilee but from now on he would turn his face to Jerusalem. So, this glorious moment of grace when Jesus went up the mountain to pray culminates our time to have a sense of who Jesus is before we go with Jesus to the cross and the resurrection.
As we know from the stories of Moses and Elijah glimpses of God’s grace seem to happen more often on mountains. Now there is something very special about trudging to the top of a mountain and waiting for the cloud to clear so that you can see the tiny houses, and cars and the patchwork farm lands woven between steams and hills stretching all the way to the horizon.
Equally sleeping in the open in the desert looking up at the outstretched cosmos or gazing into a fire can be moments of awe and wonder in every day life. For others sitting on a surf board or working away at a piece of art in a studio can be moments of grace. As people of faith we are encouraged to savour those moments and to appreciate them as opportunities to see something of the grace of God.
In the life of the Church there are also opportunities for “mountain top” experiences. We often invite people to go to Cursillo, or to come on the Alpha course, or to make a retreat, or attend a Church camp. For many people these things have been very powerful moments of grace. For me, celebrating the Eucharist can often have that “Mountain top” experience. Sometimes you can see in people that have been to these things that their countenance has changed. It is like light shines from their face. One of the ladies at Birkdale, a school teacher, told me that when she went to school after Cursillo, one of the girls could see something in her face. The girl was actually frightened and didn’t want my friend to come closer. My friend never discovered exactly why the girl was frightened. Perhaps deep in her heart she knew the light to be calling her to change.
The strange story of Moses coming down the mountain after encountering God created an element of fear in the people. They had been worshipping a Golden calf so perhaps they had good reason to be worried. Certainly, they preferred Moses to cover his face except during times of worship. Generally however, in my experience what you see in someone’s face, in their demeanour, is a quality of peaceful joy. To me it is very attractive. Sometimes you see it in bishops, Archbishop Grindrod was one of those bishops. But I think you see it in ordinary people more than in the clergy.
These powerful moments of grace are important for our relationship with Jesus. Remember for Jesus, at his baptism, he gained the deep sense that he was the beloved son of God. This experience of transfiguration confirmed for him that relationship and seems to have given him confidence to head down the road to Jerusalem, the road to the cross. For the disciples present it confirmed what Peter had blurted out just eight days earlier, that Jesus was the messiah of God. (Luke 9:20). For the disciples it confirmed what they had already been doing following and listening to Jesus. But what about us?
We are invited first of all to savour those moments of grace when we encounter them either on a mountain top or riding a surf board in the ocean. Take notice, allow the awe of that moment to awaken in you the presence of God. And set aside time in your life to trudge up a mountain or camp out in the bush on a dry night to look at the stars.
And secondly make the most of the invitations to go to Cursillo, or Alpha, or to enter into the disciplines of Lent. Make attendance at worship such an integral part of your life so that the words of the liturgy can come a live for you. Then you will be conscious of Isaiah, the cherubim and the seraphim as we sing Holy Holy, Holy Lord in the Eucharistic Prayer. In one of his books Charles Rigma describes the Church as being a bit like the desert. It can seem dry and desolate to begin with. But he says, the indigenous people know where the underground streams are and where to find food. We become “indigenous” in our worship when we come faithfully week by week. It is like the song lines in our hymns, the Scriptures and the liturgy give meaning and nourishment to sustain us. Over time these things transfigure us to be people of peaceful joy.
Lastly but not least let’s invite others to join us so that they too can encounter God. Perhaps start with the easier invitations like taking your children camping or inviting your grandchildren to go with you. Make time to look at the stars with the kids, help them find constellations or make up their own. Look for the planets. Invite your neighbours and friends to join you on a picnic at Mt Glorious. Remember to stop for a good while at the look outs to see the smallness of houses below and the immenseness of the world and the ocean beyond. Once you have become more accustomed to helping family and friends slow down enough to savour awe and wonder in nature it becomes easier to invite them to discover the mountain top moments in the Church.
And yes, it is easier to help others to savour awe and wonder if we have slowed down enough ourselves to savour these things. Like wise with the things of faith, it is easier to nurture others when we have a deep experience of faith. But we don’t have to be an expert to appreciate the glory and wonder of the stars nor do we have to be a great saint to invite someone to come to Alpha or join us for worship. We will have to trust the Cursillo team, or the Alpha team or the Liturgy. And behind all them anyway is the Holy Spirit who in the end will create the moment of grace that will transfigure your children or your guest.
So, as we hear once again the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus, lets know that we too are invited to go to the Mountain top and to encounter the glory of God. And of top of that know that Jesus calls us to invite others to climb the mountain with us.