The Rev. Dianne O’Connell
First Congregational Church
II Peter 1:16-21
The Mountaintop Experience
Good Morning. A look at the church calendar tells us that today is Transfiguration Sunday. The Easter season is upon us. Kathy Means is fixin’ pancakes for the Dine and Discuss evening Tuesday, the day after tomorrow. The pancakes are in honor of Shrove Tuesday, the Tuesday before Lent begins. To “shrove” somebody, by the way, is to hear their sins, assure them of God’s forgiveness, and to give them appropriate spiritual advice. I think we’ll just go with the pancakes. Shrove Tuesday is also called Fat Tuesday. Mardi is French for Tuesday and Gras is French for “fat”. The idea is to use up all the “cooking fat” around the house before Lent starts. A good way to use fat is in the preparation of pancakes.
Ash Wednesday follows Fat Tuesday. Ash Wednesday is the seventh Wednesday before Easter and the first day of Lent, on which many Christians receive a mark of ashes on the forehead as a token of penitence and mortality. We will hear more about these observances next Sunday. But the whole series of observances and the Easter season begins with the story of the transfiguration of Jesus, a sort of precursor, a “sneak preview”, if you will, of what was to come. Three disciples -- Peter, James, and John -- are chosen to attend the event.
all due reverence to the Scritpures, I could not help but reflect on what Cecil
B. DeMille might do with this story. It’s a Paramount Pictures extravaganza all
Let’s review the
script for a moment. Jesus takes three of his disciples up a high mountain to
pray. Most suggest it was
The disciples were flabbergasted. They were frightened. And Peter, for one, helplessly looks around for something useful to do, like maybe erect three tents. But tents were not the point. The message was, “Listen to him.” It would take the disciples sometime to process this Mountaintop Experience, but they knew for sure that something significant had been revealed to them.
Setting aside the Paramount Picutres light show for a moment, what was it again that the Voice of God said?
“This is my son. Listen to him!” Here the disciples were in the presence of the greatest leaders of their faith – Moses, representing The Law, and Elijah, representing all the prophets, and God says, “Listen. Listen to this One, this is my son.” Moses and Elijah fade into the mist. It’s an important message as Jesus enters into the last phase of his earthly ministry, trying again and again to explain his true mission.
Now, I’ll admit that the whole thing may not have happened just exactly like it’s been reported – with all the holograms and pyrotechnics. But as the message took root in the disciples understanding, it was mind-boggling. Their friend, companion, teacher really was who people said his was – the Son of God, whatever exactly that meant. For them, everything changed.
In the Bible, mind-blowing
revelations take place on mountaintops.
The ten commandments were given to Moses on
As a child
growing up in the flat, middleclass suburbs of
At a place called
When I married
my second husband Chuck thirty-four years ago, we built our home on the slope
It’s a bit bold to compare my life epiphanies with the mountaintop experiences of the two greatest figures in the Bible, Moses and Jesus. But Jesus did invite his disciples to accompany him up the mountain.
readings began in Exodus with Moses being called to go up to
For forty days and nights, Moses has the unprecedented opportunity to converse directly with God, the Creator of heaven and earth. Forty, of course, is a special number. It rained for forty days and forty nights in the story of Noah; next week we will focus on the forty days and forty nights Jesus himself will spend in the desert with not God, but with Satan.
But this week, its the transfiguration. The experience almost sounds like it lasted maybe forty minutes rather than forty days, but it was no less dramatic. Let’s look at the similarities between Jesus and Moses and their mountaintop experiences.
First of all, Jesus' appearance was completely changed. We’re told that his
face began to shine and his clothes turned a dazzling white. Moses
himself had a similar experience on another visit with God on
The connection with Moses' mountain top experience is made even more obvious when Moses himself appears on the mountain beside Jesus, along with Elijah. Clearly, this is an indication of the importance of Jesus' mission.
Then, just as
Jesus is affirmed as not only the latest in the line of great prophets; he is recognized as being greater than Elijah—greater even than Moses. His words are confirmed as having as much validity as the Law of Moses and more. Listen to him.
So out of these great mountain top experiences, Moses and Jesus both receive affirmation of their work and direction for their future. Both of them encounter God in a very direct way. And both of them are empowered to continue the work which they have already begun.
I’d like to take a moment and invite you to remember a life-changing, spiritual experience from your own history. Maybe the experience didn’t affirm you as a great prophet of God, but hopefully it affirmed you as a person and gave you encouragement and direction for your future. Maybe you felt lifted above your normal existence and reached beyond the usual events of life. There may be great emotional release or profound intellectual insight or deep spiritual renewal. Such transformative moments come in big and little packages and they often last for just a short while – but it’s a significant moment -- then it’s back to the real world.
We may be “new” people, but the world is often depressingly much the same. Moses returns to the people only to find them dancing around a golden calf. Jesus and the disciples return to the broken world they left for only a short while. We return to the everyday tasks, the routine chores, the tedious busy work that seems to take up so much of our time and energy. But, perhaps, with the affirmation and encouragement received, we can carry on.
So what is the lesson here? Most of us, particularly me, are relatively average folk, living relatively average lives. Should we not try to rise above our ordinary routines and reach for mountain top experiences?
I believe that the examples of Moses and Jesus show us the value, perhaps even the necessity, of spending some time on the mountain top. I think of it almost like a Native American vision quest. We’ve come this far, O Lord, but now, what next?
Like the people
So next time you find yourself moved closer to God by a speaker or a song; next time you come face-to-face with Christ in an encounter with another person; next time you feel the tug of the Spirit in meditation or prayer, pause to give thanks to God for the gift you have been allowed to hold, at least for a moment. Know that the moment itself may be fleeting, but the experience of the mountain top will be with you always.