It can be difficult to figure out what to do for Transfiguration Sunday. The New Testament text shares the story of when Jesus climbed the mountain with Peter, James, and John and he has transfigured before them. His appearance became a dazzling white and he was standing with Moses and Elijah revealing that in Christ the law and the prophets come together as the genesis of a new creation through the cross and empty tomb. Like Peter we often find ourselves befuddled and confused relying on what we know rather than allowing our self to be stretched. Peter said, “It is good for us to be here,” maybe to convince himself. He offered to build three dwelling places—one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah, or maybe he was building a dwelling place for James and John and himself in order to offer a tangible expression of the unexplained.
“It is good for us to be here,” Peter says. It is good for us to be here. Sometimes you just have to say it. You might not remember the songs or exactly what the sermon was about, but you leave The Well saying, “It was good for me to be there today,” and that’s ok because there are plenty of places in our life where it’s not good to be. Sometimes it’s difficult to put your finger on whether or not a moment is good or bad, and I’m not even sure that question makes sense. It’s like the old Chinese tale about good luck and bad luck. A farmer went out and found that his horse had run away and his neighbor said, “What bad luck.” The farmer replied, “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?” The next day the horse came back with three other horses and his neighbor replied, “What good luck!” The farmer said, “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?” The next day the horses trampled the man’s garden destroying his crop. His neighbor said, “What bad luck.” The farmer replied, “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?” The next season his garden produced twice as many vegetables because the soil ha been overturned and his neighbor said . . . you get the idea. Is today a good day? Is today a bad day? This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Whether you are here with a heavy heart or whether you are here to share the joy you have received, let us make room for God in this moment this morning, so that at the end of it all we might say, “It is good for us to be here.”
Sometimes the place is so good we don’t want to leave. Peter is standing there seeing Jesus radiating with a holy light and he want’s to build dwelling places so that maybe they might stay because Peter knows that Jesus has been talking about going to Jerusalem and suffering. Fred Craddock said it well:
Sometimes a child falls down and skins a knee or an elbow, then runs crying to his mother. The mother picks up the child and says—in what is the oldest myth in the world—Let me kiss it and make it better, as if mother has magic saliva or something. She picks up the child, kisses the skinned place, holds the child in her lap, and all is well. Did her kiss make it well? No. It was that ten minutes in her lap. Just sit in the lap of love and see the mother crying. Mother, why are you crying? I’m the one who hurt my elbow. Because you hurt, the mother says, I hurt. That does more for a child than all the bandages and all the medicine, in all the world, just sitting on the lap. What is the cross? Can I say it this way? It is to sit for a few minutes on the lap of God, who hurts because you hurt . . . I have to preach that. Peter . . . I have to do this. Without this journey, the world will never be healed.
Maybe Transfiguration is about knowing what goodness really is, that goodness is the marriage between the mount of transfiguration and the hill of Calvary, the tension of glory and suffering that is our faith. Maybe Transfiguration is less tangible than that. Elijah is out in the wilderness running for King Ahab who wants to kill him. Elijah climbs a mountain and finds a small cave in which to hide. The Lord comes to Elijah and asks, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” What a great question! Keep in mind, when God asks a question, God knows the answer. It’s like when your mom comes home for a weekend away and she asks, “Why have all the trash cans been emptied?” She knows the answer. She’s just giving you an opportunity to confess. “What are you doing here, Elijah.” Elijah responds, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” In other words, Elijah is afraid.
God tells Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” There is a great wind, but God is not in the wind. There is a great earthquake but God was not in the earthquake. There was a great fire, but God was not in the fire. Then there was the sound of sheer silence. A lot of ink has been spilled on exactly what all of this means, and if I was preaching on a different day I might jump into a bit more, but what captures me in this story, at least for today, is that after this dramatic experience, the Lord asks Elijah a question…and it’s the same exact question the Lord asked before. “What are you doing?” For Peter, this mountaintop experience was about letting go of the moment so that you can move on to doing what is right. For Elijah, maybe this mountaintop experience is about hearing the question out loud. “What are you doing?” What a blessing it is for the people in our life to love us enough and to have enough courage to ask us, “What are you doing?” Maybe you are in this place. Maybe like Elijah you are running from something, or maybe you don’t really have an answer. Maybe the point of it all isn’t the earthquake or the wind or the fire, but the question itself. “What are you doing?” Maybe it’s not about the answer, but the courage to dive into the question.
Many years before Elijah climbed the mountain, Moses climbed the mountain. Like Elijah, Moses experienced an earthquake and fire, but unlike Elijah, Moses went up the mountain not with a question but to share an answer. Moses went up the mountain to receive God’s will for the people Israel. He came down the mountain with God’s commandments. Peter went up the mountain and didn’t want to leave. Elijah went up the mountain with the question, “What am I doing?” ringing in his ears. Moses went up the mountain to receive a specific direction and purpose.
I’m curious though. Moses goes up the mountain and there is an earthquake and fire and smoke. Elijah goes up the mountain and there is earthquake and fire and a great wind. For Moses the experience of seeing the glory of the Lord left his own face glowing and radiating with light. Here we have a story of Jesus glowing and transfigured speaking with Moses and Elijah. I wonder . . . I wonder if these three stories are recording the same event. Maybe the glory that Moses saw was the transfigured Christ? Maybe the conversation Elijah was having with the Lord was Jesus asking him, “What are you doing?” Maybe what Peter wants to remember is seeing all three of these stories happening at once. What is time to God anyway? Don’t think too much on this or your might find yourself rocking in a fetal position sucking your thumb. But maybe the point of it all is to know that God in Christ is always with us. Whether we go up the mountain for the answers or we go up the mountain for a good question or we go up the mountain simply to recognize that it is good to be there, maybe the point of it all is that God is always with us. Soon we will need reminding that God is always with us. Soon Jesus will be hung on the cross and it will appear that all is lost. On that day, remember this day.
Read the timey-whimey texts here:
28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ 36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
1 Kings 19:9-14
Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 10He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’
11 He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 14He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’
18Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently. 19As the blast of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses would speak and God would answer him in thunder. 20When the Lord descended upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain, the Lord summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.