This week in our Gospel reading from Luke we are treated to a familiar tale, the transfiguration. It is an event we are told about in Matthew, Mark and Luke and each has a different style in doing so. Luke’s telling of this event is one that could almost be mistaken for being cinematic in its presentation. Luke’s telling of this event mixes and weaves reality with more supernatural elements and the encounter gives the participants a new vision of God: a new way of seeing and experiencing God. This is new ground and it leaves people feeling different. The Israelites are scared, awestruck. Peter is excited and he desperately wants to hold on to the moment – he wants to stay in that place, experiencing the glory of God.
Although there is potentially much to unpack in this short passage, for me Peter’s response at the top of the mountain is one that particularly resonates. Seeing this glory and identifying that this is a significant event, Peter wants to preserve the moment forever. His idea is to do this by putting up structures for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Preserving those ‘mountain top’ moments is something that I think strikes deep into the heart of society these days. My natural response when reflecting on this is to think about how in our current world people try to use social media in this way. Posting images of the mountain top experiences serves to preserve a snapshot of such events allowing people to revisit and dwell in these moments as often and for as long as they like. The thing is, we can find that dwelling too much on mountain top experiences leads to dissatisfaction when the rest of life doesn’t match up. There is a risk as well of us constantly comparing ourselves to others around us, feeling like what we experience is inadequate when put alongside.
We should be reminded that it isn’t possible to live permanently at the height of spiritual experience, on the mountain top. Peter has to continue with his everyday ordinary life. The part of the passage that we don’t have today is the piece that follows immediately after the transfiguration event. After coming down from the mountain, Jesus is met by a boy who is in need of healing. This boy is one that his disciples had not been able to heal before him, only Jesus’ touch is able to accomplish this. Here there is a lesson for the disciples and for us all, no matter how high the mountain top or how long we try to preserve the experience, at some point we have to come down. With Jesus there are not just mountain tops, but deep valleys also.
Ultimately, this encounter leaves Peter a changed man, just as any encounter we have with Jesus should leave us changed. Just as Moses’ face shines when God passes by so Peter will never see Jesus in quite the same light again. Everything that subsequently happens is set against those moments of glory on the mountain. Although we might find some of the elements of this to be a bit fantastical and within the realm of the supernatural, how much easier to accept the resurrection, and to receive the Holy Spirit if you have already tasted a little of God’s glory in this way.
Rev’d Peter Reiss