When we left Jesus in last Sunday’s gospel, he had gone into the desert and emerged proclaiming the imminent reign of God. This Sunday, we fast forward to a climactic point in Mark’s gospel: Jesus’s Transfiguration on a mountain. You can read it here:
God’s reign in our lives is a mystery. Sometimes it seems as clear as day that the infinite source of the cosmos is creating something wholly beautiful out of my life. Other times I find myself unable to figure out how a particular experience or event could ever be part of a story about how God is saving us from ruin. And I very much want to figure this out. I want to have a single experience of God that’s so powerful, so trustworthy, that I never have to do the hard work of believing ever again.
I wonder if that’s what Peter, James, or John were hoping for as they went up the mountain with Jesus. They had been singled out for special experiences before. They were present in Capernaum when Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31). They were asked into the room where Jesus raised a dead child to life (Mark 5:21-43). Eventually, on the night he was betrayed, they would accompany Jesus into his sorrow in the garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-43). So, in our passage, as they trudged up the mountain on Jesus’ heels, I bet they were excited about what Jesus had in store for them this time.
Would they finally see clearly what was going on? Would Jesus reveal all things to them once and for all? It would be really nice not to keep arguing and puzzling it all out among themselves, or daring one another to ask the Teacher what on earth he was talking about this time. More than once they had to face his puzzled, “Don’t you understand yet?” or his more exasperated, “Do you not yet believe?”
If they were hoping for clarity on this mountain, they got confusion. One minute they see Jesus in his normal, rumpled, been-on-the-road-for-weeks robes, and suddenly he’s clothed in such brightness that their eyes hurt. And they swore they were alone, but now Jesus is talking to two other men. Who? Friends? Replacement disciples? Oh, long dead prophets. Peter babbling something about making tents. And after the blazing white light, now fog and darkness. Can’t see Jesus anymore, can’t see anything. Then a voice, all around, coming from nowhere in particular. Only in their heads? Could the birds hear it? The words are unmistakable, reverberating, penetrating: “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.”
Oh. Okay then. Let’s just cower here for a minute.
Then…just Jesus. Just the same determined, travel-weary, patient face they had known for months. He regarded Peter, James, and John, their minds reeling, their senses overloaded.
“Don’t bother trying to talk about any of this to anyone. Not until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”
No problem, Teacher.
I assume that Peter, James, and John figured it all out, eventually. In the glory of the risen Lord, with the Holy Spirit descending upon them in tongues of flame and sending them forth to proclaim God’s triumph over sin and death, I bet all the pieces of the Transfiguration fell into place, along with everything else they had experienced on the long road with Jesus to Jerusalem.
But I’m not there yet. I’m still on the way, like the three disciples coming down the mountain, wrestling with the befuddling clarity of spiritual vision. Even the experiences of God that I’ve had, if that’s what they were, are like the Transfiguration: ephemeral like dreams, with mismatched pieces of sensory details, associations with the Bible and other stories, all light and darkness, clarity and confusion. But still, present through it all is the patient conviction that Jesus is God sent from God to save us by being saved with us.
One day, in the light of the resurrection, I think we’ll all see how innumerable moments of warmth and light fit together with countless moments of doubt and fear and pain that make up a life. But today, in the midst of it all, it’s probably enough to keep moving, to keep puzzling over our experiences of God with trusted companions on the way, and to keep listening intently to Jesus.