Can you recognize any sign that’s up here? In general, you probably know what these or other traffic signs mean when you see them. Most of them warn us or signal us as to what’s ahead.
The Gospel lesson for today has those elements as well. Everything about this passage says wake up. Pay attention. This is something you need to know about. Just like these traffic signs that tell us what’s going on, this passage is full of elements that should serve like a flashing neon light, telling us how big this is. If you have your Celebrate insert, go ahead and pull it out to read.
First of all, it’s eight days later. Eight days, the time of dedication after birth in the Israelite community. That’s transitional, when a baby is brought into the covenant with God and the community.
Second of all, they go up a mountain. There’s a reason we have a saying about Mountain Top experiences. That’s where stuff happens. Big stuff. Life changing stuff.
Also, the “They” is Peter, James, and John. These are the inner circle, the few, the ones who were allowed in to heal the daughter of the synagogue leader when the rest were excluded because they were the strongest.
And that’s just one verse! If we aren’t keyed in to the significance of this story yet, we then hear what happens. Jesus is praying and is transformed—transfigured—his face changes completely, and his clothes become dazzling white. I don’t know what they looked like before that, but imagine that a hike up a mountain can get a little dirty.
Jesus completely transfigures, and the three—Peter, James, John—are there to witness it. Almost as if in response, Moses and Elijah show up as well. These are probably the two most impressive and famous figures of the Old Testament, Moses leading Israel out of Egypt, and Elijah standing up for God and being swept up to heavenin a chariot, and here they are, talking to the transfigured Jesus about what is to come.
Then, Peter speaks up. Let’s build three dwelling places for the three figures here—Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Three shrines, essentially. Peter doesn’t get it. These three aren’t here to be revered and worshipped, there here to talk about the next step for Jesus. Peter chatters away about how good it is that he and James and John are there to build these things for them, that they could do that. You almost want to just say, “Quiet, Peter! What are you doing?”
That’s what happens. He’s interrupted. A cloud comes over the Mountain and God’s voice says, “This is my son, my chosen. Listen to him.” In other words, “Quiet, Peter!” Suddenly, everyone is gone except Jesus and the disciples. The glimpse into heaven is over, and they’re back on the mountain.
They finally get it. Peter stops talking. In fact, he doesn’t say anything for three chapters. Maybe he didn’t say anything worth recording, or maybe he heard what the voice said and started listening instead of talking.
Peter got it, but it makes you wonder. It was not the trip up the mountain, or the eight days, or the fact that it was those three, or even the transfiguration itself and the appearance of Moses and Elijah. It took a voice straight out of heaven before he understood.
What does it take for us? We have been given this community of believers around us. We have the legacy of Christianity—the Bible, the witness of centuries, millennia, of faithful ancestors. We see everyday miracles in nature, creation of God that surrounds us. We experience the love of family and friends. Some of us even have a mountaintop experience or an “A-ha!” moment. Eventually, we probably get it.
Well, the disciples do get it. They have their mountaintop experience, and they finally understand. But here it is—it’s not what it takes for us to get it. It’s what we do when we do get it. Jesus and the disciples understand, but they don’t stay on the mountain with their understanding.
They come down from the mountain, and there’s the world again. Just a day after this experience, a distraught parent comes up complaining that the disciples can’t do what Jesus does. Someone is afflicted again, and Jesus is sought out to fix it. Mountain top experience, real world.
There are still people to heal, still those who don’t get it, still work to do. In the big picture, a story like this seems petty and mundane, but isn’t it how it really works? It does no good to stay in isolation with the “aha” moment. If it doesn’t change anything, there’s really no point, is there?
When we follow Jesus and the disciples to their aha moment on the mountain, we might get it, too. But then, we can’t stay on the mountain or in the building, either. We have to follow Jesus back down the mountain, back into the world. Complacency isn’t an option. There is still work to do, still people to heal, to feed, to care for. There’s still a world to make a difference in.
So go make a difference in it.