“After the Mountain”

Transfiguration Sunday

2 Kings 2.1-12

Psalm 50.1-6

2 Corinthians 4.3-12

Mark 9.2-9

Sunday 10 February 2024

  ©Lauren Martin

This Sunday we stand in the liminal space, the space of the in-between. The celebration of Epiphany is over, on Wednesday we arrive at the start Lent. We are in the liminal space between seasons. Today our readings also situate us in these in-between moments. This is not a comfortable or easy space to be in. It might feel like the calm before the storm, with all the build-up, discomfort, and uncertainty it brings (as the weather has so kindly reminded us of recently).

I wonder if this is one of the things the disciples felt as they followed Jesus, after all only six days earlier Jesus told them he must suffer and die. Now here are Peter, James, and John up on a mountain top – a place, in those times, thought to be physically closer to heaven and a place of encounter with God – witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration, seeing Moses and Elijah.

Peter then – in his usual style – responses to this wondrous event, offering to build three dwellings, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. Is Peter’s response purely based in fear, or is a part of him trying to hold on to the moment? Like grasping at smoke, this moment cannot be held onto. Bottling it up by pitching three dwellings, and giving the disciples something concrete, something physical and tangible to hold on to.

In this moment of wonder and glory, it is understandable that there is the desire to stay. Afterall, who wouldn’t want to stay on the mountain and not face the maelstrom of daily life, of the conflict and challenges waiting below. Like wanting to hold onto the experience of falling in love, without having to do the dishes or take out the rubbish. Like the disciples, we can’t stay on the mountain top, experiencing God without all the complications of a life centred on relational and social transformation and interaction.

Jesus’ Transfiguration is not steeped in despair but provides a glimpse of the possibilities and hope made possible through God. Jesus does not work in isolation but has continuity with the Great Prophets, Moses and Elijah are seen to converse with him. He is one with the law, with Moses and the Prophets, the Son who can speak with authority. Now the disciples see.

This moment of Transfiguration is not about Jesus changing, but about the disciples seeing Jesus clearly – as we heard in the gospel. Transformation is changing, but transfiguration is seeing reality. Seeing Jesus, as he is, truly human and truly divine.

After this wonderous moment of Jesus’ Transfiguration, life ‘goes back to normal’. Jesus, Peter, James, and John descend from the mountain top. They travel from a place of revelation and clarity to the messiness of the reality of day-to-day life, and the journey on to Jerusalem.

There isn’t another presence that demands them to leave the mountain, they are not forced to leave this moment, but at the same time they cannot stay. A voice speaks from a cloud, Moses and Elijah are gone and they descend. Away from the mountain, down to meet the ones in need. To the possessed, to the hurting, the unbelieving officials, the religious leaders, and political struggles – to the messy life below.

They will journey to Jerusalem, the place where the colonial power of Rome was on display. Where the political forces disfigured the humanity of the oppressed by taking away their dignity. To this systemic system of violence, Jesus would offer a new way based in the politics of love, rooted in justice and truth in every sphere of life – not just for the majority, not just to maintain the status-quo.

Jesus offered love as an alternative to the violence unleashed by religious and political power and a new way of understanding humanity. An understanding not solely written by the victors and the oppressors.

This difference on perspective reminds me of a documentary I recently saw on SBS The Princes in the Tower: The New Evidence about Richard III and his nephew’s princes Edward and Richard. What stood out to me was the difference in the narrative depending on what country you lived in and the agender (of lack thereof) of those who were writing history. There were stark differences in historical records between England and other European countries as to the fate of the young princes. If we choose to look at this difference in perspective from a more theological or biblical perspective as described by James Alison we could say Jesus is inverting the usual cultural perspective from victors to victims, from oppressors to oppressed.

The Transfiguration encourages us to critically assess how we perceive others. How we act towards, listen to, and observe those around us. Perhaps we need to undergo internal transformation before it is possible to enable the flourishing of humanity in the other. Moments like the Transfiguration can help sustain us and give purpose as we go into the world bearing witness to this transformative path of love. A non-violent love that brings redemption and life.

We are encouraged to go down and follow Jesus through his death and resurrection, a journey we start together as a church in Lent. It is this journey that will lead to transfiguration and redemption. Transfiguration is not something that can be bottled and preserved, instead it is like a fire starter, it ignites and sustains further action. It is an invitation to reframe our perspectives through redeeming human dignity and honouring the image of God present in each and every one of us.

The glory of transfiguration, the despair of the disciples, challenges us to reconsider our call to be faithful, to believe, to deliver, to reach out to the world that is crying for help, hope and love. As we are become increasingly aware of social divisions surrounding ideological and economic divisions, as well as racial and ethnic tensions fuelled by perceived threats to traditionally held places of privilege unfolding across the world, often resulting in the disfiguration of human dignity, we are still able to glimpse the splendour of the transfiguration. The transfiguration has the potential to refashion and reshape our lives and the world around us.

What are these, often uncomfortable, challenging, and confronting moments of transfiguration around us today? It could look like the celebrations and acknowledgments of Black History Month (this month in the US and later in the year in some parts of the UK), Racial Justice Sunday (UK), listening to the voices of our first nation people, listening to plight of the refugee, standing up against acts of violence, giving aid to those in need. Offering hospitality to the most vulnerable among us, noticing how the outsider is treated communally, nationally, and internationally.

Today we stand on the mountain top filled with wonder and awe, possibility, and hope but all to soon we must descend carrying the hopes and dreams of a different way. A way where Christ is risen from the dead, a way where we can dream of an end to war, the easing of pain and everlasting love – God’s way revealed in Jesus the Christ.

As Amanda Gorman wrote in her poem The Hill We Climb:

For there is always light,

If only we’re brave enough to see it.

If only we’re brave enough to be it.