Psalm 99, Exodus 34:29-end, 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2, Luke 9:28-36
Many years ago now, when my wife and I lived in the Lake District, we set out on a bright sunny day to walk up Helvelyn. Apparently, this was fairly recently voted one of the United Kingdom’s favourite scenic rambles. When we eventually reached the summit, we were engulfed in cloud. This not only hid the wonderful view we had hoped to see, but also completely disorientated us and for a short while we could not see our path back down.
I am sure many of you here this morning will have experienced, when out walking, a sudden change in weather conditions, which can on occasions leave one a little bewildered and confused. I am sure that Peter, James and John were also very confused and also a little frightened when they witnessed the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain. Although Mount Tabor is the traditional site of the Mount of Transfiguration, its distance from Caesarea Philippi, the vicinity of the last scene, its height, being about 1800 feet, and its occupation by a fortress make it unlikely. Mount Hermon is seen as being a much more likely location, by being both closer and higher at over 9,000 feet; again Luke points out to the place of prayer as an important event. “Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray”.
One can only feel a little sorry for the disciples. Only a few days before, Jesus had predicted his coming death, and now here on the mountain they hear again the voice of God proclaiming Jesus as His son, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Yet when they do listen, Jesus forbids them from telling anyone what they had witnessed. How are the disciples to put together what they have just seen and what Jesus is telling them? If not bewitched, then they most probably were a little ‘bothered and bewildered’.
Then there were Elijah and Moses appearing with, and talking to Jesus, what was all that about? Could the disciples possibly be expected to understand that here you had the two figures who represented the Prophets. Elijah the greatest of the prophets, the heralded forerunner to the Messiah, together with Moses the Law bringer, both now being superseded by the Son of God, Jesus himself. It was now coming to the time for Jesus to deliver his people, God’s people from the bondage of sin, by his death on the cross and resurrection, and so bringing to fulfilment the work of these two Old Testament prophets. To reveal a ‘new covenant’ for God’s people.
In the reading from Exodus, it is Moses himself who is ‘transformed’ from being in the presence of God, again on a mountain, Mount Sinai; so often it is on mountains that these holy encounters occur, people believing it to be closer to God and His Heavenly Kingdom. Moses brings the Israelites the “two tablets of the covenant”, God’s laws for His people. However, as Moses’s, “face was shining” from his encounter with God, he must put on a veil, when addressing his people, for “they were afraid to come near him”.
It is to this event that Paul writes about in our reading from 2 Corinthians, although Paul being Paul puts his own interpretation on it. Paul wants to home in on other images of ‘veiling’. In particular he is telling his readers not to copy the Israelites by their stubbiness not to accept Christ as the Messiah. Christians have had ‘the veil’ removed by the Lord, the Spirit, and must now learn to live and speak openly of their faith.
I was once very heartened by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, saying that there are some weeks when be questions his beliefs. There have been many occasions when I have questioned my faith and I expect there will be other times in the future when I question it again.
There has never been an easy time to be a Christian, from those first disciples, three of whom were on the mountain at the Transfiguration, who were so often perplexed and unknowing. Also, today, it is never easy when we see so much evil and suffering in God’s world. Yet without love, without the ever-present example that Jesus gave us, where would we be? However many times we stray from the path, or fall on the wayside, God will be there to pick us up and set us straight once more on the path His Son teaches us to tread.
So when we become a little lost, or question things we do not totally understand, let us stand firm in the fact that many have travelled that same path before us, and in the end, we, like them, will find “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”, if we just have faith.