One way to look at the famous episode of the Transfiguration is to see there the three stages of the spiritual life: going up the mountain with Jesus; being on the mountaintop with Jesus; and going down the mountain with Jesus, and I want to ask you, “Where are you in this story? Where are you on the spiritual journey of Christian discipleship?”
In the first part, we could say life is like going up the mountain of God with Jesus. Throughout the Bible, mountains are important. They are the place where you meet God. So Moses climbs Mount Sinai and meets God in the Burning Bush and receives the Ten Commandments. Every one of us has to climb the mountain to God, to seek God, to search for God, to find where God lives. So we go with Jesus up the mountain. We may not know where he is going, and we may find it a hard journey, but if we want to seek God, we have to follow Jesus up the mountain.
In the second stage, you could say that some point in your life you are on the mountaintop with Jesus, and like the disciples, at some point, you suddenly realize that you are in the presence of Christ and that God is speaking to you. I think we are all like the disciples, sound asleep, sleep-walking through life, half asleep and we don’t even know it, but at some point, there comes a moment in life, when we wake up to Reality and recognize the presence of the Christ and we see the glory of God around us. It’s not that we’re transfigured, but that we wake up to reality and witness the transfigured Christ. We recognize Christ, and the presence of saints and prophets, like Moses and Elijah, talking about “his exodus,” his going to the cross to free humanity from slavery to sin and violence and death, and like Peter and the disciples, we want to stay in that comfortable place with God and build tents on the mountaintop and remain far above the problems of the world. On the mountain, God says to us, “This is my beloved, listen to him,” and we learn to listen to Jesus, to let him be our guide, to do what he tells us, and if we listen to Jesus, we hear some simple, beautiful words: “I love you, I am with you, I want you to follow me and love one another, serve one another, forgive one another, and be at peace with one another.”
The Gospel could have ended there, with the disciples on the mountain in the presence of the Transfigured Christ. In many ways, we all wish we could stay in that safe, peaceful place with Christ, but instead, he goes down the mountain, and at some point, in the third stage, we too need to leave that comfortable mountaintop experience and walk down the mountain with Jesus to face the cruel world of violence and walk the road to Jerusalem and confront systemic injustice and take up the cross and risk being arrested, jailed, and killed and follow Jesus on the path of suffering, compassionate love, giving our lives for others. We don’t want to go with Jesus to the cross, we don’t want to carry the cross, we don’t want to suffer, but that is what we are called to do, to follow Jesus down the mountain. Each one of us has to confront the horrific injustice and institutionalized violence of our nation and our world. We have to walk to our own modern-day Jerusalems, denounce our government’s warmaking, and accept the consequences of our active nonviolence.
So I invite you to see where you are in this story. Do you find these days that you are climbing the mountain of God, or are you sound asleep on the mountaintop, or are you seeing the glory of God around you or are you listening attentively to Jesus, or are you going down the mountain with Jesus to the cross, confronting our country’s horrific wars and injustice, following Jesus on the path of nonviolent, suffering love?
The good news is that as we come to the altar, like the disciples, we will wake up and realize that we are in the presence of Christ in the bread and the cup, and we will hear the voice of God tell us to listen to Jesus, so we can go forth from here, down the mountain with Jesus, as his disciples, on the way–to the cross.