It’s transfiguration Sunday!
Said no one excitedly ever.
This is actually a big holiday in the Eastern church, along with Easter and Christmas,
But in Protestant churches in particular, we tend to ignore it.
And who can blame us.
It’s an odd story….
Peter and John go with Jesus up a mountain.
It’s an arduous journey – C. M. was recently in Israel and told us about the trek to the top of the peak where Christians believe this happened, and it was an exceptionally long trip to the top.
But they somehow manage to stay awake, even while Jesus prays.
And I imagine Jesus’ prayer is quite lengthy, because Peter, James and John begin to fall asleep.
They’re exhausted from the trip already. And at least from the accounts we have, they haven’t been given many details about why they’ve been asked to trek up to the top of this mountain in the first place.
And now Jesus is going on and on in prayer and the men are just sitting there, wondering what’s next.
They barely manage to keep their eyes open.
But after quite some time, Jesus’ face changes.
And at the same time, Moses and Elijah show up.
Now it’s unclear how the author knows it was Moses and Elijah.
How did anyone recognize them?
It’s not like Moses and Elijah were on the $5 bill.
But somehow, the story emerged that those were the men they encountered up there.
Elijah, the great prophet, and Moses, who legend had it was responsible for bringing God’s law to the people.
Elijah and Moses talk to the Disciples and Jesus about what’s to come, about Jesus’ ministry and his coming death in Jerusalem.
And then they prepare to leave.
But just as they’re leaving, Peter says to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings,[h] one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”
Another translation is “let’s set up 3 tents.”
Now it’s possible Peter was just tired and would love nothing more than to camp out on the mountain instead of continuing their long journey home.
It’s also possible that Peter, who loved institutional religion, was hoping to build a church or some sort of building to contain this extraordinary moment.
I’ve heard countless sermons, and I’ve preached a few myself, on Peter’s ignorance and naivete here.
You can’t contain God or capture spiritual experiences in a building.
But what if Peter wasn’t the fool we often say he is.
What if he is teaching us something valuable here.
What if he has wisdom that we lack in so many of our mountaintop moments.
Peter reminds us to savor.
To not rush down the mountain.
Peter knows what’s coming. He’s a little bit in denial about the fact that Jesus’ life is nearing it’s end, but in his heart, Peter does know that Jesus won’t be with him for much longer.
So in the midst of this extraordinary experience, Peter says – hey, let’s savor this for just a moment longer.
Elijah and Moses have just traveled across time and space to this mountaintop.
Why not pitch them tents? Let these legendary figures rest a moment.
Create a safe place away from the wind where they can gather their thoughts.
Elijah escaped tyranny, nearly died in the desert, raised people from the dead, and set fire to a mountaintop not unlike this one.
Moses heard God on a mountaintop himself, and then led his people out of slavery and into freedom.
And Moses never got to enter the promised land. Why not set up a tent so that he can sit comfortably and gaze out at the beautiful views of the land and the villages below where his descendants were able to live free of Egyptian slavery.
And why not set up a comfortable place for these men to stay for a night or two.
Surely they have more wisdom to share with Peter and his generation.
Surely others would love to hike up this mountain and hear what they have to say.
Peter’s instinct is to savor the moment.
And for us, in a culture that moves so quickly, perhaps Peter’s instinct to remain on the mountaintop for just a bit longer is an instinct we could learn from.
(And even if they depart.
What’s so wrong about creating a memorial for them on top of this peak?
These men were an integral part of the Jewish and later Christian story.)
Many of us are great at thinking about the future, about planning and making todo lists. Some of you are thinking about them right now.
Many of us were taught that if something is enjoyable, it’s probably bad for us.
Whether it’s delicious food or wine or a nice massage or intimacy or relaxation – some of us feel guilty enjoying any of it.
Peter reminds us that yes – it’s not going to last forever, but enjoy it while it’s here.
Because when you do, we all benefit.
When you savor an experience, whether it’s a great bite of food or a moment in the music that reaches you in a place too deep for words, or a story you hear that moves your soul – when you savor those moments,
The rest of us get to witness transfiguration.
Fredcrick Beuner writes that the transfiguration of Jesus was “the holiness of the man shining through his humanness, his face so afire with it they were almost blinded.”
“Even with us,” he writes, “something like that happens once in a while. The face of a man walking his child in the park, of a woman picking peas in the garden, of sometimes even the unlikeliest person listening to a concert, say, or standing barefoot in the sand watching the waves roll in, or just having a beer at a Saturday baseball game in July. Every once and so often, something so touching, so incandescent, so alive transfigures the human face that it’s almost beyond bearing. “
I can’t tell you how uplifting it is for me every week to watch your faces when the kids come in for children’s time.
Not everyone loves that part of the service, but some of you do.
Some of you see the kids or hear what they have to say, and your faces literally change.
I can still recognize that it’s you, but there is a light in your eyes that is different that is radiant during that time.
THAT is transfiguration.
So today, don’t ruin your mountaintop experiences by thinking about the chores you have to do when you get back down the mountain.
And don’t let guilt invade
Look around right now. We’re surrounded by people we love, with views of God’s extraordinary creation, and music that can’t help but lift our spirits.
We have the Dixieland band today.
Don’t waste this time thinking about the pain or the suffering in your life. There will be plenty of time for that this afternoon.
Enjoy this service. Enjoy this time. Let it fill your spirit, so that you HAVE the resources to face whatever’s waiting for you in your personal Jerusalem.