Scared by the Sacred
Mark says, “They were terrified.” My guess is that you would have been, too!
I’d bet that when Peter, James and John hiked up the mountain that day they thought they were going for the exercise. (Mark 9:2-8). They never expected to see Jesus “transfigured in front of them…his clothes were amazingly bright, brighter than if they hd been bleached white.” They never expected to see Elijah and Moses talking with him like old friends. They never anticipated the voice in the cloud that declared, “This is my Son…Listen to him.” No wonder they were terrified! They were scared stiff by a startling experience of the sacred.
But just as suddenly as it came, the vision faded away. “When they looked around, they saw no one but only Jesus.”
Back Down the Mountain
Then it was over and they started back down the mountain. Here’s what I wrote about the scene in “Easter Earthquake.”
Sometimes the Spirit leads us to a mountaintop where we catch a glimpse of God’s glory and know with unquestioned assurance that the one we follow is the Son of God. Now and then we experience Christ robed in dazzling white and feel the presence of saints who have gone before us. Along the pathway of discipleship we encounter wonder-filled moments of spiritual awareness that revolutionize our lives and transfigure the way we see the world around us…
But then we come down from the mountain…Most of the time our path leads through ordinary places in an ordinary world filled with ordinary people who experience ordinary hurts, frustrations, fears, and doubts…Like the disciples, we are left with “only Jesus.”
Here are a few probing questions for Transfiguration Sunday.
- Which is more frightening for us? The possibility of some unexpected, overwhelming experience of the sacred? Or the challenge of following Jesus into the ordinary stuff of our ordinary lives?
- Is my discipleship dependent on those exceptional moments of spiritual exaltation or will I face the unexceptional challenges of life in ways that are consistent with the way of Jesus?
- Do we need to see Jesus “transfigured” on the mountain, or will we allow our lives to be transfigured, reordered, rearranged so that his way becomes the way we actually live?
- If “only Jesus” is all we have, is he enough?
Excited by Jesus
As part of my devotional life this year I’m using E. Stanley Jones’ spiritual classic, “The Word Became Flesh.” He wrote:
For sixty years I’ve thought of one subject…a Person, Jesus Christ. After thinking and talking about one subject for sixty years, one should be bored and should want to get away and think of something else. But on the contrary, I was never so excited, so exhilarated, so full of surprise as now. Something new breaks out from Him every day, a surprise around every corner, horizons cracking, life popping with novelty and meaning.
So, here we are on Transfiguration Sunday, on the edge of Ash Wednesday and our journey through Lent to the cross. As the old song says, “Give me Jesus.”
O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 217)
Grace and peace,