I’ll never forget climbing my first “fourteener.” That’s what they’re called out in Colorado—mountains that surpass 14,000 feet. There are 53 of them in the Rocky Mountain state alone. Some people make it a bucket-list item to summit all 53. If you’ve ever climbed a fourteener or summitted any mountain, really, then you can understand why mountaintops were thought to be holy places in ancient Israel, God’s landing pad when God decided to check in on earth. Not only do you feel like you’re actually in the heavens, amongst the clouds, on a clear day it can feel like you can see the entire world laid out before you. It’s an experience you’ll never forget.
Speaking of experiences never forgotten, today we meet Jesus and three of his disciples up on the mountaintop. What happens up there is a mystery to us—dazzling clothes, reappearances of the prophets Elijah and Moses, a voice coming out of a cloud. But instead of trying to explain the event like scientists studying the unknown, we might instead wonder about how the story fits into our lives and journeys of faith.
St. Paul suggests that to see the glory of God, we look to Jesus. God’s light, which was in full effect on the mountaintop, is the same light shining first at creation, and the same light that shines through us.
Today is a celebration of God’s light shining in the world and in our lives. Maybe not in bleached, dazzling clothes or holographic prophets, but God’s light shines through everyday marvels—our own mountaintop experiences, our own little miracles. We see the light of Christ in God’s word and the meal of bread and cup. We see the light of Christ and Jesus is made present to us in the readings, the prayers, the songs, the food and in one another.
The season after Epiphany, which began with the rising of a star and the baptism of Jesus, ends with this incident on the mountaintop. It’s a season during which God is revealed to us through Jesus, over and over again. But as we gaze out into the distance from the mountaintop, we see before us the darkening valley of the shadow of death. It’s a reminder that for Jesus, the path down from the mountain eventually leads to the cross. In a matter of days, we go from the Light of Transfiguration to the dusty ashes of Ash Wednesday. We take down the white decorations and exchange them for deep purple. We hide our alleluias, replacing them with “lord, have mercy.”
The quickly turning church seasons mirror the quickly turning seasons of our lives. When someone dies suddenly, you can just hear the chorus of mourners, “I can’t believe it. I just saw him at the store yesterday.” We know how quickly things can turn. Even on the mountaintop. The sun can be shining one moment, and within minutes, the clouds roll in, the temperature drops, and you’re scrambling for cover, caught in a storm of wind, lightning and hail.
We have those bright, shining moments of Epiphany—moments of hope, moments of promise. We have those moments when seeing the light of God at work is as clear as day. We see the light of Christ in stories that might not make the headlines or get the most retweets, but impact our lives and the world for the better.
We also have those Lenten moments when it’s as if we’re walking around marked with sooty ash—moments of despair, moments of uncertainty. We have those moments when God seems hidden, Christ far away. We are knocked back and driven to silence by tragedies that happen in our homes and hospital rooms, in our communities and in our world. We are shocked when despair, depression or addiction descends seemingly out of nowhere. The season of Lent is 40 days, but you and I know that in reality, we go through personal Lenten seasons that can last for years.
Yet God’s light has the power to swallow up prophets in cloudy windstorms, to captivate disciples, and to shine in and through our hearts, regardless of season.
Transfiguration, in all of its weirdness and mystery, is a brilliant testimony that the one whose clothes dazzle and shine—Jesus, God’s Son—will suffer and die, but comes among us today and every day to glow in our hearts and take away the pain of sin and death. Jesus meets us on the mountaintop, but he also meets us in the valley and everywhere in between.