Monday, February 28, 2011

From One Mountain to Another

This Sunday's lectionary texts are from Exodus 24:12-18, 2 Peter 1:16-21, and Matthew 17:1-9, found as always here.

We've spent the past 5 weeks sitting on a mountainside with Jesus, listening to him deliver a sermon mindboggling in its depth and complexity and simplicity and power. That Jesus was a few mere months into his public ministry; his disciples had left everything behind to follow him, but still didn't totally know who "him" was.

It's harsh to jump so abruptly to another mountain. We miss so much in the valley inbetween--years, likely, at least a couple of years worth of teaching, travelling, and amazing miracles. We've missed countless brilliant parables, multiple run-ins with the powers that be, and infinite ridiculous questions from the still-clueless disciples as they try to put the pieces together about their most unusual rabbi.

Finally, just before this little mountain climbing adventure commences, one of the disciples, at least, has put things together: when Jesus finally decides to ask the fateful question, "Who do you say that I am?", Peter is able to reply: "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Jesus' strange reaction to this moment of illumination is to start talking about his death which is, apparently, right around the corner.

And so we climb this new mountain. This time, there are no crowds; it's simply Jesus, Peter, James, and John, looking down across the valleys where they've shared so much time together, when suddenly the whole scene changes. Jesus...doesn't look like Jesus anymore, at least not the Jesus they have known for almost three years now: he's glowing...his clothes look all different...and who's that with him? No one they've seen before...but it sure looks like...Moses? Elijah? And they're talking.

THIS is what they'd been waiting for--what Peter had been looking for in that moment he'd told Jesus who he thought Jesus was--something spectacular, something that would confirm his identity without a doubt: that heavenly voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him" that they hadn't been around yet to hear at Jesus' baptism.

Why here? Why now? Why would the disciples get this vision of Jesus' full glory at this point in their journey together? Why would we get this vision at this point in ours?

Well, I guess because even if we have missed all the narrative between the mountains, we are headed to the same place in our journey that Peter, James, and John were in theirs--things are about to get painful. Things are about to change. And before everything changes on that cross, everything is going to change, for a moment, on this mountain: a preview of coming attractions, a preview of what is true about Jesus before the cross and will be true afterwards--that this is God's own chosen, the one to whom we must listen even when the road leads up another mountain, to Calvary's hill.

Mountains, in ancient tradition, were believed to be a place where you can touch the holiness of God. That holiness was seen in one way on the mount of that Sermon, where Jesus laid out a new way of life; it is seen in another here, a God shining in glory who was God in the days of Moses and Elijah and will be for all days to come; and holiness that will be seen in another way on a cross atop another mountain, where God's love lays its life down.

This mountain may seem like an abrupt shift...but it's all part of what God has been showing us all along: just as this God is different, so is his Son different. Thanks be to a God for that!

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