I’m never sure what to do with the Transfiguration of our Lord (Mark 9:2-9).
But this year—the year of Mark, who has no resurrection appearances, who ends his gospel with the words “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid”—this year, I want to linger on the mountaintop for a little while. This year, that’s the most glorious moment we’re going to get.
And as glory goes, it is pretty spectacular.
Jesus is transfigured before the disciples’ very eyes. His clothes, a dull, mossy brown, covered in the dust of the road, are suddenly a dazzling white. I imagine they glow, whiter than anyone on earth could bleach them.
Mark doesn’t say, but I’m sure Jesus’ face is glowing, too, and the tips of his fingers and the ends of his hair. I’m sure he’s just dripping with the glory of God.
And it gets better.
Suddenly, Moses and Elijah are there. The two great prophets of God whose coming is a sign of the beginning of God’s reign. They, too, are glowing with the light of God.
And then—the cloud. The cloud that means, “God is here.” And a voice from the cloud like the voice from the heavens when Jesus was baptized. God’svoice, saying, “This is my Son, the beloved. Listen to him.”
It’s an incredible moment. And it’s a moment so far removed from my own experience that I have even less idea than Peter about what to say. I’ve never climbed a mountain with Jesus. (Okay, let’s be honest. I’ve never climbed a mountain at all.) I’ve never had a vision of two great ancestors in the faith talking with a glowing white Jesus, or heard God’s voice talking to me from a cloud.
Of course, whether we’ve climbed actual mountains or not, we’ve probably all had what some people call “mountaintop experiences.” Experiences that lift us out of the valley of our everyday lives. That glow and shine and drip with the glory of God.
The moment you looked your beloved in the eye and promised to be faithful until death.
The moment you held your child in your arms for the first time and knew your life would never be the same.
The moment you did something you never expected to do—finish a marathon, give a speech to a crowd, go swing dancing, jump off the high dive—and discovered that you loved doing it.
Maybe you really have climbed mountains, or walked through woods or fields very early in the morning,and glimpsed God’s glory in nature.
In the view from the top of the mountain.
In the sun rising over snow-covered hills or setting behind the bare silhouettes of trees.
These transfiguration moments are usually brief. And they are usually suffused not only with the glory of God, with the grandeur of the mountaintop, but also with the dust of the road, the darkness of the valley.
We are sweaty from climbing that mountain or trudging through those woods.
We are exhausted from birthing those babies, who emerge, let’s just say, not glowing whiter than anyone on earth could bleach them.
That’s the thing about God’s glory. It breaks in where we expect it, sometimes—in our worship, in water and bread and wine, in new babies and new relationships and beautiful sunsets—but it breaks in in unexpected places, too.
As Frederick Buechner puts it:
to the connoisseur, not just sunsets and starry nights but dust storms, rain forests, garter snakes, the human face, are all unmistakably the work of a single hand . . . Glory is what God looks like when for the time being all you have to look at him with is a pair of eyes.
God’s glory shines brightly on the mountaintop. But when the prophets and the cloud and the voice from heaven have disappeared, God’s glory remains in the person of Jesus.
And—good news alert—Jesus doesn’t disappear. Jesus doesn’t stay on the mountain in a dwelling place Peter builds. Jesus comes down the mountain, into the valley of everyday life, and stays there with us to the end.
Thanks be to God!