Transfiguration Sunday comes just before Lent. A reminder of what has transpired in the ministry of Jesus to this point and to prepare us for what comes next. In Mark’s gospel, the Transfiguration occurs in the middle. It is both a climax and a launching point. It is a place where we acknowledge, as Peter did, that it is good to be here. The Transfiguration also spawns genuine wonder as God’s work in creation and confirms the divinity of Jesus Christ.
It’s Good To Be Here
Text: Mark 9: 2-9
Several weeks ago, I read a news article about a French mountain climber. Her name is Elisabeth Revol and she was rescues from what is known as Pakistan’s “Killer Mountain”. The mountain, called Nanga Parbat is the world’s ninth-highest peak at 8,126 meters. Revol is the first woman to reach the summit without a Sherpa or the use of oxygen.
She and her climbing partner made the summit, where there were able to spend a brief second there and then needed to descend. On the way down, things took a turn for the worse. Rescuers urged her to leave her weak and bleeding climbing partner, Polish mountaineer Tomek Mackiewicz behind. Something she describes as “terrible and painful.” Revol, suffered from hallucinations so bad that she took her boot off at one point during her descent. She suffered severe frostbite to her hands and foot (reference).
Mountain top experiences. Sometimes they are grand, exciting affairs and other times they bring with them painful realities.
I imagine that for Revol and her climbing partner, reaching the summit was a moment of joy and euphoria. They had achieved their goal. That moment at the top can be captivating and we see elements of that feeling in our gospel reading from Mark.
Jesus has climbed to the top of a mountain, Peter, James and John are with him. There, Jesus’ appearance seems to change. He is transfigured, Elijah and Moses show up and all Peter wants to do is to stay and bask in the moment. “It is good for us to be here” is what Peter says.
It is good that we are here. The moment of wonder felt by Peter, felt by Revol, felt by countless others who have been to the mountain top, both literally and metaphorically are wonderful. I get the sense that Peter, despite how awkward his next words about building huts are, is filled with genuine wonder.
And well-placed wonder is in short supply. We tend to move through our days without always achieving a full sense of wonder. Yet, wonder is all around us. Here in this moment of worship, in the presence of the living God, we can experience wonder.
As we look to the stars, we can experience wonder. This week the company SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy rocket, once again lighting a sense of wonder about our ability to reach to the stars. To return to the moon, perhaps to send people to Mars. It is a sense of wonder that often guides and leads us to new and wonderful experiences.
I read a poem the other week that summarizes wonder in a delightful way. The poem is titled Imaginary Conversation by Linda Pastan:
You tell me to live each day
as if it were my last. This is in the kitchen
where before coffee I complain
of the day ahead—that obstacle race
of minutes and hours,
grocery stores and doctors.
But why the last? I ask. Why not
live each day as if it were the first—
all raw astonishment, Eve rubbing
her eyes awake that first morning,
the sun coming up
like an ingénue in the east?
You grind the coffee
with the small roar of a mind
trying to clear itself. I set
the table, glance out the window
where dew has baptized every
Why not live each day as if it were the first? As if this day was the day that God had given and that the events which occur on this day should carry such magnitude that they are not forgotten. That each event is given the wonder that if deserves, because it is good that you are here.
The story of the Transfiguration occurs at the mid-way point of Mark’s gospel and this is no accident. It is a reminder of all that has happened and a signifier of what is still to come. It tells us that all that we have seen pales in comparison to what will happen next. That God’s glory persists.
This passage is also one of the three decisive moments regarding the unique identity of Jesus, as God’s son, that is found in Mark’s gospel. We hear God’s voice say, “This is my son.”
The words that come with that declaration are, “Listen to him.” An interesting statement and it probes for a question we could ask of ourselves. Do we listen to Jesus or do we just hear him? Do his words make a difference in our lives or is it just background noise. How do his words shape and influence us, how do they lead us to do good work on his behalf?
It is good that we are here and if we are going to be here then we should ‘listen to Jesus’. To understand and discover what his teachings were about. To reveal the nature and character of God and how that influences and shapes our lives.
Transfiguration Sunday is placed here on the eve of Lent for a purpose. To remind us of the divinity of Jesus, to prepare for Good Friday and Easter. Because post-transfiguration is not for the feint of heart. Once we see and acknowledge the divinity of Jesus it is hard to ever be the same. It is easy to just stay on the mountain top, or to never reach the summit. It’s safer, there is no risk. You just keep rolling along.
Are we willing to climb to the summit? Are we willing to have our future claimed by God? Are we willing to embrace something new, something bold all in God’s name? Are we willing to challenge the way things are?
When reporters asked the French mountain climber Elisabeth Revol if she would ever climb again, here response was, “I think I will. I need this.” In light of her experience we might think her response odd, perhaps even reckless.
Yet, we all need to climb the mountain top. We all need to experience that sense of wonder that living and being in the presence of God provides. Let’s invite more people to the mountain top, where we all can all acknowledge that it is good to be here. Amen.