Israel is a land of spectacular geographical sites. Places like Makhtesh Ramon, the Dead Sea, Mount Carmel or the Judaen Desert are awe-inspiring. The view of the Jezreel Valley from the church on the Mount of the Transfiguration is one such breathtaking site of spiritual and visual splendor. The first time there, I simply wanted to bask in that serene atmosphere, meditate forever, or simply just be there and forget the world.
I could feel the tranquility and serenity that Peter, James and John experienced when Jesus took them up there, as Matthew 17:1-9 records in the Gospel Reading for the Last Sunday after Epiphany. Indeed, Matthew’s story replicates, in many ways, the First Reading in Exodus 24:12-18.
In the First Reading, Moses and Joshua went up Mount Sinai. The glory of the Lord – Shechinah – covered the mountain for six days and “Moses entered the cloud,…and was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights”. The purpose of Moses’ ascent to the mountain was to receive guidance and instructions for God’s people.
In the Gospel Reading, Jesus was transfigured “and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white”. Then Moses and Elijah appeared on the mountain and were conversing with Jesus.
Even if the Transfiguration is not a reworking of the Exodus story, there is something symbolic in the appearance of Moses and Elijah. Six days earlier, at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus had asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”, to which they responded, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets”.
In the Transfiguration story therefore, Jesus is seen as representing every aspect of Moses’ ministry and all the prophets. In his own words, Jesus said, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). Similarly, in his Letter to the Romans, Paul writes: “For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). Jesus is the telos; the means to the fulfillment.
So, what do we learn from this Sunday’s lessons? In the Collect, we pray that “beholding by faith the light of Jesus’ transfiguration, we may be strengthened to bear our cross…” The cross is not borne on the mountaintop, in splendor. In other words, we are not called to the mountaintop to build booths and establish residences. We are called to the mountaintop to be equipped, strengthened and energized.
Then we must go down to serve, to witness, to equip and energize – in short – to carry our cross. In most cases, this means getting dirty, in contrast to the glitz of the mountaintop.
When we come together to worship and for Holy Communion, we are equipped, strengthened and energized. We taste the glory of the mountaintop and our fellowship with Christ. After that, we are dismissed into the world to serve and to carry our cross.