Last Sunday after Epiphany A
March 5, 2011
As I stand before you in this elevated pulpit of Holy Child and St. Martin, also stand today on a rather higher elevated pulpit at Grace Cathedral, the good Nobel Peace Prize Recipient, ArchBishop Desmond Tutu. As much as I would not like to be compared to the good ArchBishop, I can’t help but with joy, like Peter in the Gospel, say, “We’ll both share our own mountain top experiences in light of the Transfiguration story,” with a goal that your own mountain top experiences will also come to be realized.
The Transfiguration account begins with the phrase, “Six days later, after Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus took Peter, James and John to a high mountain” Why would Jesus take only the three and not the twelve? These brothers must have some bothersome issues they have been keeping inside them and that Jesus would like to show them something before their very eyes which could make them realize and understand sooner or later the meaning of all their questioning. For six days, they carried this news of Jesus’ impending death around inside of them. For six days it soaked into their souls. For six days they secretly grieved for the inconceivable death of their Savior. What would they do without Jesus? For six days they walked in a daze between denial and acceptance of the most unacceptable news they had ever heard. On the seventh day, Jesus took Peter, James and John up the mountain. And suddenly on that “Sabbath” day, the day of God’s favor, the glory of God was revealed to them in Christ. His clothes and his face glowed. Heavenly light shown from him. And that wasn’t all. Moses and Elijah appeared. The two greatest Prophets of God right there with Jesus. Then a cloud overshadowed them and a voice came from heaven and said, “This is my Beloved Son, with him I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”
Jesus and the apostles are alone again and make their way down the mountain together. The apostles do not understand what they just experienced and therefore do not say anything to anyone. They do not, however, forget. They speak of it again after the resurrection, and they interpret the resurrection in light of their experience on Tabor.
Great and significant events in Jesus’ life take place on a mountain. It is a place of manifestation for Matthew. In Matthew’s gospel the temptation of Jesus, the beatitudes, the sending of the apostles on the mission of the church, were all mountain top events. The Lord will usher those who are his own into the light of glory on a high mountain at the end of time.
After my ordination to the diaconate in 1993, I was assigned to a remote area in Mawigue, Conner Apayao north of Philippines. The road was rough, rugged and muddy during rainy season. Not even a boot can move me up for an hour and a half hike up to the mountain. Most of the times, I had to walk with my bare feet and sharpened great toes to keep me from sliding down a hill. But there’s a big mango tree in the middle of that hill that most people would stop and rest. The feeling was revitalizing as I scroll my eyes to the panoramic view of the village. The banana and coffee trees, the wild animals and fresh water stream were just wonderful to see. The village people were pure and humble in spirit. I had wished that I stayed there for the rest of my life, but I realized that I had to come down and tell the others and my family the wonders of God in that place. I told my bishop, “come and see.” The next day, the bishop put on his boot and tracked the rugged road with me. Just as we arrived on that mango tree area, he had an asthma attack, the cool wind came brushing his face and felt better. The whole village people gathered at the small chapel on a hill for dedication. It was a transfiguration experience I will never forget.
You too have your own mountain top experiences. Every day, every work, and every challenge is our mountain top experience. Thanks be to God for the Sabbath, a time to regain strength and be transfigured by God’s grace through Jesus Christ who would remind us, “Do not be afraid, get up and be strong.” We may not be able to explain fully the beauty of God’s love however we can describe them and we will never forget. To be at a highest peak on earth is one of the most wonderful experiences one could ever have. The panoramic view, and the realization that all that beauty is God’s creation makes the heart leap in glory. The mere experience of watching clouds float by at eye level simply makes one feel close to God on a mountain. Try to put yourself on the wings of the eagle or the hawk gliding gracefully from above high mountains and feel the wind brush your face, oh what a feeling.
Singer and Song Writer John Denver wrote the song Eagle and Hawk with the following words: “Come dance with the West wind, and touch on the mountaintops, sail o’er the canyons, and up to the stars. And reach for the heavens, and hope for the future, and all that we can be, not what we are.” John Denver simply knows the feeling of being in the mountain top and be alone with God. He had a vision of a better place after that mountain top experience.
Before he climbed the highest peak on earth in 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary, a new Zealand mountaineer and explorer, envisioned success and fulfillment of his goal with humble determination to reach the peak of Mt. Everest of the Himalayas. Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, a Tibetan mountain climber, gave hope to the world that there’s no highest mountain impossible for man to climb. Today, hundreds of mountain climbers reach the peak of Mt. Everest and had a glimpse of the panoramic view of God’s creation and coming down, their hearts were filled with wonders and with great joy to share the world.
American Heartthrob Hannah Montana or Miley Cyrus rendered a beautiful and inspiring song, “The climb” Heather and Hailey would compete songs of their own American Idol version at home singing these lines,
(May I ask all young ones to sing it for us)
“There’s always going to be another mountain, I’m always going to want to make it move, always going to be an uphill battle sometimes I’m going to have to lose. Ain’t about how fast I get there, ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side, it’s the climb. The struggles I’m facing the chances I’m taking, sometimes they might knock me down but, no I’m not breaking. I may not know it, but these are the moments that I’m going to remember most yes, just got to keep going and I, I got to be strong, just keep on pushing on…”
(Thank you children)
Life, especially the life of faith, is an uphill battle. There are rocks and pits in the trail and at times it gets steep. As we trudge up the trail we are met with disappointments and doubts. Even though we have confessed Christ as the Son of God, our Lord and Savior, it gets difficult. And we are troubled by doubts and dilemmas. Why does God let innocent children suffer? Why does God allow faithful people to die of cancer. Why does God let the suffering of the world touch me? Why does God let me suffer? Why would God allow people to easily push down further those people who are already in the mud, and humiliate them? It’s like a kick in the teeth. “Hey, wait a minute Jesus, remember me, I was the one who said you are the Son of Living God, and now you do this. You can’t go die on a cross for me, I won’t let you.” And we sit and stew in our disappointment. We grieve over a loss that we can’t seem to accept. We keep poking the sore spot to see if it is any better. And we doubt. For six long days, or months, or years, or decades, we sit in the darkness of a cloud that overshadows us. And our spiritual vision never goes beyond our hurts and doubts. But in faith we sit where the Lord has called us to be. But then the seventh comes, the Sabbath day, the day of God’s choosing. What then? Then the Glory of the Lord is revealed. On the Sabbath day Jesus stands transfigured, glowing with a heavenly radiance, right before our eyes. On the Sabbath day the voice of God speaks out of the cloud itself. I don’t know where you are. Perhaps you are in a valley or in darkness. Or maybe you are going up a mountain, or coming down the mountain. Wherever you are remember that God’s people have been there before. And when the time was right, when God decided the time was right; the glory of the Lord enveloped them. When the trail gets steep remember that God’s glory is always revealed at the right time. Hold on to the glory that you have seen and the promise of the glory that you will see. Balance it with the truth that the trials of the past have shown you. And let it prepare you for the desert places and trials ahead. If we hold on together, to that glory and the voice, it will enable us to face the memories of the past and the troubles of the future just as Moses and Peter did. The mountain may be steep, but remember that God is with us and God’s glory will meet us at the top.
May this day lead us all to a deeper transformation with God as we welcome Lent and come to that victorious day in Easter where all our doubts will be washed away through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Amen