Introduction Today’s reading takes place a few days after Peter has declared that Jesus is the Messiah. Shortly after this Peter tells Jesus that he won’t let him suffer at the hand of the elders, chief priests and teachers as Jesus has said, but Peter doesn’t realised that this is part of what it means for Jesus to be Messiah.

v 1: After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.

Why these three? They seem to have been Jesus’ closest disciples. They were with Jesus when he raised Jairus’s daughter, they were here at the transfiguration, and Jesus asked them to be with him when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before his betrayal. Peter was the rock on which the Church was built, James was the first martyr (as we read in Acts 12), and John was the disciple that Jesus asked to take care of his mother as he hung on the cross. They were people with special roles, maybe Jesus was preparing them specially.

They went up Mount Tabor, not actually a very high mountain, but one on its own, rising up out of a flat plain so impressive for that. It was “up”, and definitely away. It was out of the ordinary, and being a high mountain afforded them an amazing view of the countryside. It changed their perspective, from a height, the view made the details seem very small, and helped them see the bigger patterns. Think of those shots of the earth from space, where the camera starts in a very precise location, then pulls away and you can see where the place is, but also a lot more about its context, where the heights of land, rivers and lakes are, where the city ends, and what lies beyond its boundaries.

And they were by themselves, which with Jesus was not often the case! So a change of scene, away with the Lord.

• Can you think of other mountains where important things happened?

v 2: There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.

What a vision! It has things in common with visions of God in the Old Testament, though they aren’t exactly the same.

In Ezekiel, we read:

High above on a throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.

The prophet Daniel saw this:

I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of fine gold round his waist. His body was like topaz , his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude. Maybe it’s a bit more like Moses coming down from Mount Sinai after he had met with the Lord and received the commandments, his face was shining so much he had to put a veil over it.

v 3: Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Again, why these two, Moses and Elijah?

It could be said that Moses was the man who represented the law, he had received the commandments on the two stone tablets direct from God, and Elijah represented the prophets. Moses had done amazing things in his life, and received many blessings: he led his people out of Egypt after the plagues and the Passover, he led the people through the Red Sea, when overseeing battle as long as his arms were lifted up the Israelites won, he had a close relationship with God in spite of all the wrong things the Israelites did that angered God, and he saw the Promised Land, though he didn’t get to enter it because he too had had an argument with God, and God took that privilege away from him. Elijah had called fire down from heaven to burn sacrificed animals that had been drenched with water, fed a widow and her son for a long time from what was the smallest portion of breadmaking supplies, he brought the widow’s son back to life, and he divided the Jordan River so the people could cross. They were so blessed by God, and had such special roles.

v 4: Peter said to Jesus, “Lord it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

I wonder what was going through the minds of the disciples, first Jesus’s body was transfigured, and then Moses and Elijah were there, the words in the scrolls about them were brought to life! Peter was always the impetuous disciple, and he followed his human inclination to do something, so he asked Jesus if he should put up a shelter. Was it the equivalent to the English tradition of making a cup of tea whenever something happens and we don’t know quite how to react?? Or was it an act of generosity on Peter’s part, to provide shelter for the visitors? We aren’t told what his motivation was. But one thing that Peter realised above all: “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” I think that was a moment of blessing for Peter, it was his first reaction.

v 5: While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

The cloud here is described as a bright cloud, and although it covered them, it was bright – divine brilliance of uncreated light rather than the usual cumulo nimbus. Did it give the light of revelation as it was the cloud from which God spoke, saying the same words as he’d said at Jesus’ baptism, but here adding “Listen to him!” It was a word for the disciples, and perhaps for us too, if we listen to Jesus we may see or hear greater things, unexpected things, like the disciples saw that day.

v 6: When the disciples heard this they fell face down on the ground, terrified.

By now, emotionally and spiritually, were terrified, and their response was to fall face down on the ground. They had seen Jesus’ face changed, they’d seen Moses and Elijah, alive, way out of their time, and they’d heard God’s voice – what did it mean, what else might happen, how did this fit in with all the other things they knew of Jesus or heard him speak of, Messiah, death and resurrection. They may have been awestruck, falling down in humility, adoration, love and worship, even though they were terrified too.

I wonder if you have had a moment when you have been deeply moved? It might have been during a time of prayer, when you were listening to music, when you were out walking and came upon a particularly beautiful view? It might have been a moment of particular insight – a lightbulb moment, or it might have been when you realised what Jesus has done for you personally in dying for you and your sins, to guarantee your place in heaven.

Take a moment to think when you were particularly moved by something. v7 & 8: Jesus said to the disciples (and says to you at the end of your reflection), “Get up. Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

Things seem to have returned to normal, but not really. They had the memory of that amazing event with them, it was imprinted in their minds, and in their hearts. In the same way, having remembered that time when you were particularly moved, may have rekindled its impact on your mind and your heart. Hold on to that. The trip back down the mountain from the place of special time with Jesus is ahead, back into the cut and thrust of ordinary life.

v 9: As they were coming back down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

This makes me think of the verse after Mary and Joseph found Jesus quizzing the teachers in the temple: “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” As Mary turned over the things that had gone on around Jesus, so I’m pretty sure the disciples pondered what had happened that day. So far as we know they did as God bade them from the cloud, “Listen to him” – and followed what Jesus instructed.

But I wonder what they felt?

• Fear, or awe and wonder

• Lack of understanding or puzzlement, or sheer amazement at what they’d experienced

• Unanswered questions in their minds

• No way they’d say anything anyway, they might have been afraid of ridicule

So they went down the mountain, possibly with these new thoughts and questions in their minds, and hearts.

And so….

What does that story do for us in our lives today?

  1. It can remind us of a time when God touched our lives and moved us.
  2. Although God can speak to us anywhere, anytime, we probably have a better chance of hearing him more clearly when we take time to draw close to him, metaphorically go up a mountain. It may not be a day, or an hour, it may be a few snatched moments during a work day, or day at home with the children – in that case maybe in the loo!
  3. Withdrawing can help God change our focus too – with him we may be in a high place or a place apart that can change our perspective on something he’s trying to teach us.

The big question is: Do we want to see, are we willing to make, that effort to draw closer to God, whatever it looks like in your life – and that will probably be different for each one of us. Be inspired to do it by Peter’s words: “Lord it is good for us to be here”.

Let us pray. Open our eyes Lord, we want to see Jesus. Give us a fresh vision of you in our lives. Help us to know and grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, for us, for all people, for the world he created. And help us not to be afraid to go further in our relationship with you, but to greet each new insight with joy; ponder it in our hearts; and take it with us into our everyday life. Amen.