Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone by themselves. There in their presence he was transfigured: his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them. Elijah appeared to them with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. Then Peter spoke to Jesus: ‘Rabbi,’ he said ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say; they were so frightened. And a cloud came, covering them in shadow; and there came a voice from the cloud, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ Then suddenly, when they looked round, they saw no one with them any more but only Jesus.
As they came down from the mountain he warned them to tell no one what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They observed the warning faithfully, though among themselves they discussed what ‘rising from the dead’ could mean.
At the beginning of Mark's Gospel, Jesus walks into the water and arises to his new life with the words of his Father in his heart and ears '“You are my Son, I love you; you make me so happy.” Stirring words to carry him through the next three years of ministry. I wonder how often, during those years, did Jesus have to re-live that moment as people walked away; refused to believe; refused to change; forgot to say thank-you.
How often did he wonder - how can my Father be pleased with this? How often did he return to the lonely places, as a child, to have his Father console him with his love?
Probably not an image of Jesus anyone would want to consider; yet the conversation in Gethsemene tells us that Jesus is not in control of the Mission; sometimes Jesus does seem to learn as he goes; the woman who asks for healing as scraps from the table for instance. Some would say Jesus uses the situation to teach a lesson. I wonder if Jesus himself sometimes needed the lesson - after all he believed he had come to gather Israel first - maybe this woman was his teacher this day - a lesson learned from experience - and others along the way.
Now, three years or so later, the final pilgrimage to Jerusalem; the one that will end with his death. In the past few days he has talked with the disciples about the sacifice that is to come and they still don't get it. I imagine Jesus sitting at the fire during the morning de-camp; watching the hustle-bustle as preparations are made for the day; the talk of anticipation for the Passover. I see his eyes reaching towards heaven and in his heart a simple cry - 'Father'.
And his Father says 'Come to me and bring your friends'.
The mountain is not an escape. It is a refuge. The going up will mean coming down again but surely worth it? It isn't always about moving on; moving forward; sometimes its about reaching a point where there is nowhere else to go and staying with that.
At the top of the mountain the air is thin; they feel lightheaded; catching their breath at the landscape rolling out below them. For the fishermen this is as far from the sea as you could be; as far from their early life as they could imagine. Maybe as they watch Jesus pray they whisper together about the adventures they have had; the lives that have been changed because of this man, this friend, this brother.
And then they see this man, this brother, as the Father sees him; shining and wonderful beyond all recognition; washed clean again from the doubts and prejudices of human preception. Resting in the company of the fathers of faith; wrapped in the light of his Father's eyes.
Why tents - why seek to confine this experience; to enclose it within manageble 'space'? Because they could not cope with what they were seeing? Because Peter speaks for the struggle we all have to 'be still and know'.
And then the voice of the Father; speaking to them - ordinary men out on a mountain - God witnessing to them 'This is my Son; I love him; listen to him.'
As they come down the mountain the doubts and misunderstandings are already beginning to set in. Keep this to yourself - Jesus tells them - you don't understand now; talking about it won't help. But the experience will come back to you when it is needed.
What does Transfiguration mean to us. That we are fearfully and wondrously made? Yet how often do we believe that? How often does life not let us believe that?
The Lenten message is one of letting go, of sacrifice, of moving ourselves from one inner place to another. It is a journey of labyrinths and mountains yet its paradox is that it is also a journey towards joy. Sometimes it is about no greater grace than being on a mountaintop and letting God wash us clean; seeing ourselves reflected in God's eyes; letting God tell us we are Beloved; that we have a message worth listening to?