Meadowbrook Congregational Church
Rev. Art Ritter
March 3, 2019
Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 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. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 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. While he 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!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
We’ve all had those mountain experiences, haven’t we? Those moments when we’ve seen the glory. The times when we found clarity of our purpose in life. Those all too brief seconds when we transcend the dull and mundane nature of everyday life to achieve something that speaks to our fondest desires and wishes. We all remember how good it felt when we first fell in love. We remember what it was like to win a prize or a competition. We remember what it was like to be on that vacation where we could totally get away. We remember what it felt like to get that new job, that recognition from your boss, or your new promotion. We remember what it is like on Christmas Eve when the candles are lit, we are surrounded by family, and the organ begins to play “Silent Night.” We all remember when the Lions got to their first Super Bowl- well forget about that one.
It is a good thing for us when these things happen. They move us. The experience changes us. It gives us a sense of meaning and enjoyment that encourages us in the living of the rest of life. We want those moments to last forever.
The problem we have is that those moments don’t last very long. We want to capture the experience, freeze the moment, and maintain the feeling. But soon we start seeing the blemishes of the one we love. The thrill of our victory isn’t as important when the next season or competition comes along. The delight of our new job or promotion comes with the burden of work or the load of responsibility. We all have to come home from the best of vacations. And the Sunday after Christmas Eve, even sitting in the same pew, well, worship just isn’t the same.
That was true for Jesus and his disciples who experience that moment of transfiguration on the mountain. There was a second or so of clarity that made it easy to understand the glory and power of Jesus. But despite Peter’s yearning to keep everything simple and easy and triumphant, Jesus and his followers had to return to the valley. Right after this time of divine revelation, there was to be even more resistance to his message, more conflict with authorities, more shadows of the cross. The truth of Jesus’ mission was not to be revealed in the bright, shiny faces of the mountaintop but in the sacrifice of the journey to the cross.
Likewise, such moments of clarity and transcendence might mean little unless we carry out its meaning in the struggles of life that are yet to come. It is good to have times when we are taken away from it all. Our faces shine in glory. We temporary grasp the deep meaning of life. But we can’t stay frozen in such ecstasy and contentment. Such moments are fleeting. God moves on ahead of us. The true test of God’s intention for will be seen in how we live in such glory in the complicated journeys of our lives.
I remember many years ago when Laura and I took Maren, then age three, for a dream vacation to Disney World. Everything about it was perfect. It was a wonderful escape from the late October dreariness of Michigan. We went on all the rides, including about ten trips on “It’s a Small World” and Dumbo. We had a character breakfast with Pluto, Goofy, and Chip and Dale. We sat through shows so Maren could sing along with the characters. I was moved to tears when I filmed my little girl hugging Minnie Mouse and Belle from Beauty and the Beast. It was so good to be there. I wanted it to last forever. But we flew home on Halloween day, weary yet transformed by Disney magic, arriving back at the house just in time for Maren to trick or treat. Later than night as I tucked her into bed, I asked her which she preferred- Disney World or Halloween. Without hesitation she replied, “Halloween!” I quickly came down from the mountain, thinking about all the money I had spent to accomplish less that a bagful of Halloween candy!
As we prepare for the beginning of Lent, the transfiguration story speaks well to what we must hold in our hearts. The glory of bright shining faces on the mountaintop is what we may yearn for. We would like to be certain about all things and escape the doubt and pain of life in every positive and successful experience. Sometimes we get to climb the mountain. And it is good to be there. But it is not what will last.
Glory is not what we get when we find temporary ways to rise above the chaos, fear, and tears of our real world. While it is good to have a time apart in enlightening and thrilling moments, God is already moving on. Glory is what we get when God pitches a tent over the everyday events of our life. Glory is received when God comes and stands beside us, works with us, lifts us up, gives us hope, and heals us. Author of The Brave Heart of Motherhood, Rachel Martin wrote, “Sometimes you have to let go of the picture of what you though it would be like and learn to find the joy in the story you are actually living.” Sometimes the glory of life can’t be found in the shiny vision of the mountain. It is only found in the journey of the valley.
The season of Lent reminds us that God’s glory is not something that removes the pain or loss or suffering. If we are to live Lent as it is intended, we learn to see and experience Jesus in life troubles and fears, seeing signs of hope in the power of the cross that comes before resurrection. God’s glory in Jesus’ action and example is a glory that enables us to walk even in the midst of suffering, to walk with hope and confidence, knowing that God is with us away from the mountaintop, down in the valley.