Mark 9:2-9; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
This story is splat in the middle of the Gospel of Mark. It’s at the beginning of chapter 9 of a 16 chapter book and without actually counting the verses, I’d say that about as central as you can get. In fact, it is so central to the story, that some people think it’s Mark’s description of the Resurrection that got moved to the middle for editorial reasons, and the authors of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke copied the literary choice as well as including their more expansive resurrection accounts as a fitting and hopeful endnote to the story.
If you’re wondering why someone on the editorial board of the Gospel of Mark (probably the author) wanted it in the middle instead of the end I can’t tell you for sure. All I can offer is my opinion which is that the open ending of Mark that has the man in white telling the three women to tell Peter and the others Jesus had been raised and they should go to Galilee and Jesus would meet them there and they were terrified – that ending was hopeful, but uncertain. It was an invitation to action, and Mark’s is the Action Gospel, so it makes sense to end there.
Still we need something to sustain us and that is this – this revelation to a few disciples. Like the revelation at his baptism that voice that Jesus heard, the Spirit that descended like a dove, only to those most necessary to keep the faith and stay strong and believe that Jesus is who they have found him to be: the embodiment of the Law and the Prophets, Beloved Son of God, the Messiah, the one who will lead them to freedom.
They’re going to need that. Not later. Now.
If this was a traditional Methodist 4 hour sermon, we could unpack all that as it was then, has been understood over the ages and may be deconstructed for today’s context, but we have our mountains to go up and slide down so can’t do that. We can’t stay here forever.
Which is often, maybe normally, what we get from this sermon.
It would be AWESOME to stay up the mountain and bask in the glory of Jesus and Moses and Elijah and be as close as we can handle to the face of God.
We just can’t. We have to go down the mountain and discuss theology and heal people and argue church politics and worry about the end and recontextualize the scriptures, challenge the rich and powerful, and wonder what the resurrection looks like these days. And that’s just chapters 9 and 10.
No wonder Peter wants to create temporary permanent housing for the three great figures of his faith. It’s the light of Jesus as Messiah shining out of the darkness of deny yourself and take up your cross if you want to follow me.
Peter needs that mountain. We need that mountain.
We do – absolutely – need to go back to the plain. And we will. But for now, we need that mountain and the memory of that glory to sustain us through the cross and the self-denial and the arguments and the uncertainty and the overwhelming task in front of us. Don’t give up the mountain.
For parents that mountain can take the form of seeing their children sleeping like the babies they were after a long day of needs and runny noses. For lovers it might be make up sex. For someone dispirited by their job it could be that one encounter that brings them back to why they saw in this line of work the sense that were engaged in a ministry that mattered.
For us a time like that was when Craig Perry came and preached a sermon that reminded us of the kind of church we envisioned and have worked to build and what that meant to him and how important it is to Christianity.
We need these moments. Moments when we behold the glory of God and are enveloped in its vision defying glow.
On a good day, those moments can transform us.
Transformation, by the way, is not the same as transfiguration. Jesus was transfigured as his true nature – glorious, rooted in faith, beloved son of God, Messiah – was revealed to Peter, James and John. Peter, James and John were transformed – remade as disciples into people with a deeper understanding of what was going on. Perhaps more hopeful. Maybe more committed.
We are unlikely to be transfigured. We get glimpses in the sleeping children, the make up sex, the work that is also a calling that remind us of the true nature of love and service, but the kind of things that Peter, James and John saw on that mountain is rare. But like Peter, like all of them, we can be transformed when we are able to reconnect to the heart of what we hold dearest and prize most highly.
In this story, Peter, James and John, and anyone who heard the story after, even us, reconnect to that sense that they had when Jesus said “Follow me” – that something amazing and holy and life-giving and salvational was going on.
And beyond that, there is one who calls us to become much more than we know ourselves to be or ever realized we could be. Bask in THAT for a while.