And from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.” In the name of +Jesus.
The best sunrise I ever saw was on top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. My friend, Millicent woke me when the clock had a 4 at the beginning. It was dark. And cold. We drove her little 4 cylinder Honda Civic up the mountain. There were moments when I didn’t think we would get to the top.
When we arrived at the top, the wind whipped around me, reminding me that the top of a mountain can be very disorienting. A small community of people gathered on the rocks, in the dark, sharing warm blankets and snacks.
We knew what we were waiting for on this cold day in the dark. The light. As the sun began to rise, we were sandwiched between the darkness and the light. On my right, the sun began to appear. On my left, darkness.
This is precisely where we find the disciples in today’s Gospel. In between the light of Epiphany and the darkness of Lent. On top of Mount Tabor, we see Jesus revealed as the Son of God, dazzling like the lights of a Vegas show. Transformed so that the disciples could hear AND listen to God revealing Jesus to them. This is the dazzle of all time, a glimpse of heaven on earth.
Add to this the appearance of Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Maybe the disciples got caught up in the dazzle of such a show. Like scoring elusive Super Bowl tickets or a seat at Elton John’s concert. Caught up in a moment.
But on the horizon, on the other side of Lent, is Golgotha. The crucifixion. The empty tomb. Look to the left: the dazzle and glory of the Transfiguration. Look to the right: the loneliness and darkness of Jesus on Golgotha.
This is our last Epiphany, of seeing Jesus being revealed as God’s son. The last moment before we enter a time of marking Jesus’ journey to the crucifixion.
In between, the disciples descend the mountain, the best experience of their lives, to be told to be silent. To not tell anyone.
Theologian Patrick Keifert says, “It is as if the text is saying, if you want to know who this Jesus is, you must see his future. It is not enough to see him… healing the sick,
preaching the good news and teaching about the reign of God. One must see him suffer at the hands of the religious establishment, die by the command of the Roman governor, rise three days later through the power of God, and finally rule as victorious Lord.1”
The reality is, we are just like the disciples. We can’t comprehend this dazzling glimpse of heaven or see the future. It becomes a moment like that sunrise on Cadillac Mountain. I must’ve taken hundreds of pictures with my camera, trying to capture that moment for all time. And though I have some great photos from that beautiful sunrise, they don’t quite capture one thing.
The pictures don’t reveal how I was transformed that day. I didn’t memorialize the darkness while waiting. There are no pictures of the darkness. That was cold and scary, and just something to be suffered through until the dazzling orange and red appeared in the skyline.
I captured the memories of the light. That morning, sitting on a mountain top with my maid of honor, a few strangers, and some snacks…it was a perfect moment. Experiencing this one moment of grace and mercy and life and beauty together. Hinged between the darkness and the light.
Perhaps you can remember a moment when the Mount of Tabor dazzle met the Golgotha death and darkness in your own lives. So often, we try to memorialize the moment, keep it close. Maybe that is why the disciples immediately wanted to build dwelling places for Elijah, Moses and Jesus. So that they could physically keep the glory of this moment. To build a permanent way of holding onto a moment for all time.
We do this often. Most recently, the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl. And fans far and wide build versions of the dwellings discussed in the Gospel. Immortalizing people. Retelling the story, so that the moments of joy and glory can still be near to us. Buying the t-shirt or hat to honor the occasion. Throwing a parade to continue the glory.
But the truth is, we can’t live in this moment forever. There will be other Super Bowl winners. It is a moment, in a long history of lightness and darkness. We memorialize the light. We resist the darkness.
We recently studied Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I have a dream” speech in our 9th grade confirmation class. Martin Luther King, Jr. spent the final years of his life balancing between Golgotha and Mount Tabor. The darkness of segregation. The nonviolent vision of hope. The days following his assassination were certainly as dark as Golgotha for those who relied on his voice for freedom.
And yet, as history leads us to a horizon, his words continue to inform and guide leaders today. His hope continues to dazzle us, moving us from the darkness of Golgotha, and all the ways we kill each other with our sinful words and deeds. And shining us towards Jesus, the true light. The one who sets the slave to sin in every one of us free.
Are we so busy trying to make a dwelling, trying to keep God in a box, that we miss dazzle? Are we so caught up in grasping a fleeting moment, to box it up and keep it as a trophy or memory, that we miss the uncontainable transformation that is occurring?
In the ultimate example of trying to hold onto a fleeting moment – Peter wants to build dwellings – so they can stay there – up on the mountain top – forever. Haven’t we all had that moment we wish we could live in forever…something in the past we could revisit for just a few minutes?
The disciples wanted to stay in this moment with Jesus on the mountain top forever. Even though they were terrified to hear the voice of God, they were also mesmerized. Jesus was transfigured before them…and God says to them, This is my Son, the beloved. Listen to him.
Listening to Jesus transforms US. Listening for Jesus transforms US. We can’t stay on the mountain top forever, for God calls us down the mountain to be witnesses. God doesn’t remain in a faraway place. God moves mountains to be with us, comes down to us in bread and wine, in human form, in spirit. We are constantly being transformed. When we listen to Jesus, our eyes open to the dazzle around us.
God reveals the dazzling light of Mount Tabor – so that when we see the darkness of Golgotha in our own world, we can look and listen for Jesus beyond the horizon. We can hold onto one truth: God’s response to the darkness of our world is everlasting, resurrected, eternal life through Jesus the Christ. It’s for you and for me. There is nothing more dazzling than that.
1 Homily on Mark 9:2-9