Meditation for Sunday, 28 February 2021 Lent 2
Woven – Lent 2: On the Mountaintop
By Revd George Mwaura
Psalm 22: 23–24 & Mark 9: 2–9
Lord speak to us through the words of my mouth and the meditations of your people.
Open the scriptures wide so that we may behold your glory that sustains us in the valleys where we live.
I wonder, how do you respond when you encounter those moments that make you go, ‘Wow!’? Peter, James and John faced such a moment. No doubt it was one of the most spectacular and dramatic moments in Jesus’ life. We call it The Transfiguration, and we spoke about it on the last Sunday in Epiphany, two weeks ago. We are revisiting it because we are following the Lent study groups and the theme for this week is ‘On the mountaintop’.
When Moses and Elijah appeared and were talking to Jesus, Peter was so overwhelmed that he said, ‘Rabbi, … Let us make three booths – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ Mark felt that he needed to explain why Peter would say something so daft, so he added: for he did not know what to say. Some scholars suggests that Peter did not know what to say because he was caught off guard, having been asleep. I am not convinced. The truth is that, like most of us, Peter had his foot permanently stuck in his mouth. Think about it: how often do we find ourselves in that kind of predicament? Silence settles over a group, and you think, ‘If someone doesn’t say something, you will scream.’ So, you say something, and everybody else screams! At times like that, please do not say anything. Let the silence speak.
A few years ago, the Reader’s Digest carried a story of a church minister whose wife was terminally ill. In the story, the minister tells us that one day, as he stepped out of his house, a fellow clergyman was driving by. Seeing him, he pulled over and asked how his wife was. The minister explained that it was hard, but they were coping. Th colleague gave him a professional smile and said, ‘Well, chin up and knees down.’ The mister said that left him furious and burning inside. He continued, ‘Later, a friend met me for coffee, and as we sat, he asked me, “How is your wife?” I told him. As the full significance of my words became clear to him, he wept. No sad words, no quoted scripture, no pious advice – just tears running down his cheeks.’ The minister concluded: ‘I have never been so comforted as I was in that moment.’ Friends, when we do not know what to say, maybe it is best to say nothing. Try and enter the situation of silence with such intentionality and attentiveness and let the Spirit do her work.
But I digress, back to the mountaintop. The synoptic gospels agree that this was an experience of ecstasy. Jesus was transfigured into a dazzling whiteness and brightness difficult to describe. How do you explain such a marvellous scene, how do you deal with such a wow moment? You cannot! You simply accept it as the eternal God witnessing to who his Son was. When Peter makes his statement, whether it came out of embarrassment or from deep down his heart, it did not matter, and Jesus did not answer his request with words either. The scripture says immediately a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud saying, ‘This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!’ Last time we heard similar words, Jesus had just been baptised, and the voice of God came down saying, ‘This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.’ When God speaks, no words are necessary!
Two points to note from this passage. One: there is a place for ecstasy in our Christian experience. In fact, we need moments of ecstasy, for we are more than rational beings who think and conceptualise. We also feel and resonate. There are dimensions of life beyond the obvious, which are not reached through logic or reason, but through passion. We love and are loved; we laugh, cry, dream, and our imaginations transport us to places beyond the conscious. We pray and experience God’s presence as a creative urge we cannot explain. That is why religion is only real when it feels, when it makes hearts beat faster, when it is a shiver in the soul, a song inside that begs singing.
To be sure, those mountaintop experiences are not everyday affairs. If they were, they would cease to be ecstasy. But they are precious, and come to us every now and then. Our worship should provide at least a hint of that, and we should never apologise for expressing our feelings and emotions in our worship services. Folks: we need to stop boxing ourselves in, quit being so uptight, break out of our rigidity and let the spirit of God move us.
The second dimension is truth. What happened to Jesus on the mountain is symbolic of what he wants to happen to us on the mountaintops to which he leads us. He wants us to be sure of him, and sure of ourselves. This can happen only when we block out the valley and intentionally focus on God. You will agree with me that the valley is not a bed of roses. Life and joy can be sucked out of us by the constant demands in the valleys. Even the devil wants a piece of us in the valley. In the struggles of the valleys, we forget the vision of the mountaintop and lose sight of Gods calling. That is why we need the mountaintop to renew the vision the valleys have blurred. That is why there is no substitute for worship on Sunday: It is the spiritual battery that charges you!
But we cannot stay on the mountain for ever. That fact is made dramatic in the way Mark tells the story. When Peter expressed his desire to stay on the mountain for ever, Jesus did not even comment. A cloud overshadowed them, and the voice of God came affirming his Son. When it was all over the disciples could only see Jesus. And immediately we read: As they were coming down the mountain. People, you cannot stay on the mountain for ever. If you read the chapter further you find that down in the valley, past the ecstasy moment, there was a sick child possessed by demons and having fits that would slam him on the ground. And with that little boy, a father who was almost paralysed with fear and concern. That sums up the struggles of the valleys, doesn’t it? And that fear and concern of that father is a complete replica of the situation in our NHS hospitals during this pandemic.
Friends, the mountaintop is not enough. Ecstasy is not enough! Religion is real only when it both feels and heals; when the ecstasy becomes the power for coping and enduring; when it provides fidelity in the shadows and struggles of life; when it provides integrity for moral choices, and concerns at the crossroads of human need.
The call of the valley, where people toil, sweat, sin, and suffer is just as urgent as it was when Jesus walked the earth. And his power is as adequate for us today as it was in that day. We must never forget that. There is a powerful suggestion in verse 8; listen: Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. That is what we need always: to see Jesus only, and to know that his grace, his power and his presence are sufficient for us. But also, for those in the valleys we seek to serve. Friends, we can make it in the valleys if we stay focused on Jesus and the vision on the mountaintop.