“Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. … Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said.”
In my last year of seminary I got to take a trip to Israel and the Sinai. One of the places we went to was Mount Tabor…the traditional location of the transfiguration. There on the top of that lone hill was a church…the church of the Transfiguration… go figure eh? And in that church there are chapels … one for Moses…one for Elijah…and the main chapel, Christ’s chapel.
It seems that many of us are a lot like Peter. The Transfiguration of Jesus was a fairly momentous and I’d dare say a fairly traumatic event for the disciples. Moses and Elijah were major players in Israel’s salvation history. People who had an exceptional relationship with God, so for the disciples to see their own Rabbi, Jesus, standing with these two, transfigured and glorious, would have been quite the shock.
And for Peter, as it would for many of us I imagine, it inspired a response.
“Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."
This makes sense …erecting altars, memorials it is a typical human response to commemorate an event. To create a place of pilgrimage, after all we’ve got a church there now!
And Peter is so very typical of most of us. Impetuous and reactive, eager to get things done and move swiftly to action. I can almost imagine it Peter up there on the mountain, excited beyond measure speaking of fabric swatches for the tents, thinking up the best priests and Levites to offer sacrifices, starting to organize a fundraising committee. Fortunately, Peter is cut off before he can start planning the bake sales.
The voice of God cuts through the dazzle of the transfiguration and the gut responses of Peter to proclaim, “This is my son, Listen to him!” The dazzle and the awe is swept away…it’s just their Rabbi with them, but the echo of the sacred remains.
There are places around that seem different. Places that merit an altar or shrine. The Celts, amoung others, called them ‘thin places’ places. Places where one can sense holy things happen or have happened there. They are places where people have often responded by building shrines, or pilgrim centers or hermitages. Places where you are tempted to stay and bask in the sacred air as it were.
For all the difficulty that churches seem to be having attendance wise, thin places or places that claim to be …are thriving. Pilgrimages, spiritual centers and monastic hospitality houses are very popular…people want the mountain top experience. They want to gaze on the transfigured glory and have some of it rub off on them…or have it bottled to take home to open when needed.
Perhaps it was something like that which Peter was be proposing… a place where you can go and hear the story of the Transfiguration, see where it happened and worship, maybe buy a relic before you go. But this isn’t what God is proposing.
Jesus isn’t calling us to stay on the mountain and maintain vigil over what has been, but rather to go back down the mountain…towards Jerusalem…and all the turmoil and triumph of Holy Week.
The gospel of Luke tells us that Moses, Elijah and Jesus were speaking of what was to come. It must have been refreshing for Jesus to be with them. To converse with men who knew what he knew, who had led God’s people before, who were with God in unique ways. After all, although Moses and Elijah had been long gone, it is said that rather than being dead and buried, they were taken up to heaven…alive.
But, however glorious, however benificial … it had to end. There were bigger things at stake and Christ wasn’t here to grow as a person, he was here to die as a person, so that we could live as sons and daughters of God and heirs with Christ. It is tempting, as any who have gone on silent retreats know, to not come back. Even I, who as you are quickly finding out, can’t stop chattering on…dreads coming home from a silent retreat. Though I have a loving family, a wonderful parish and full life…it is just so peaceful, so uplifting, so easy to bask in God’s presence while remaining in silence at a retreat center. It is easy, breathing in the thin air of sacred space with no interruptions… no responsibilities…nothing to do, but remain in contemplation and prayer.
But although retreats are necessary and healthy for me to recharge, refocus and renew myself…they are for my personal benefit and to remain there when I have a calling elsewhere is just pure selfishness. It is good to be on the mountain, it’s awe inspiring, renewing and can even help us to refocus on Christ but we cannot stay there. We have to come back down and not just to share our transfiguration experience with others, but to become the ones transfigured. To change beyond what we could imagine.
The disciples struggled the entire time they were with Christ to understand what he was doing. They experienced the transfiguration, miracles and benefited from personal instruction with Christ Jesus…but still they were limited by their self centeredness. Not selfishness, but their inability to see beyond what they already knew. They had already decided what a messiah was… they had trouble letting go of themselves, their own dreams and their understandings, but when they did. They were transfigured.
Normal everyday fellows concerned with budgets, jobs, and the good ol’ days were transfigured into preachers that traveled across the known world without thought of provision. Into leaders who went against every convention and social norm to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. They were transfigured into people who let their own selves die and so that they could live as members of Christ. It would have been much easier to sit in a tent and sell tickets to the site of Transfiguration and tell people of their experience with Moses, Elijah and Rabbi Jesus. Easier…but not better.
They were and we are called to be transfigured, to step away from the comfortable and easy worship of the thin places and walk to the challenge of Jerusalem. We are called to listen to Jesus, who walked off that mountain into death and Jerusalem …or one could say into life for all creation.
St. Andrews is starting up again and once more we will get to worship in the comfort and ease of our ‘thin place’. As we do, we are all challenged to seek out how listening to Christ will transfigure us, in what ways we will be dazzling. We cannot simply sit back and invite people in…we need to step out. And the only way to do this is to listen. People are seeking ways to be transfigured in this broken world of ours, the question is…are we, the church, still a part of that, and how.
“While (Peter) was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’”
So, let us get overshadowed, terrified, immersed in the thin places of transfiguration and listen to Christ, so that we can go out transfigured and walk where Christ calls. Amen