Elijah, the great prophet who has traveled the length of Israel and spoken the word of the Lord directly to Israel’s king, is now about to take the longest journey of all. Somehow he knows that his time has come. His disciple Elisha knows too, but they do not speak of it. Instead, Elijah turns to Elisha and says, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.”
An economic migrant—a desert nomad—leads his family toward a land of promise, believing he is following the will of his Creator. And so begins the great trek for new life, survival, redemption. He will find danger, so much danger that he plans to pass his wife off as his sister. It is a trek repeated today in the heat of the Sonoran desert, in boats from Africa running ashore in southern Europe, in the hulls of boats from Fujian province to the shores of Long Island.
The vagaries of the calendar and the cycles of the moon bring in an early Lent and Easter this year, and so the transfiguration has come early too, cutting short the season of Sundays after Epiphany. Unexpectedly, we find ourselves back up on the mountain with Jesus. We were just there to hear him describing those who populate the kingdom of heaven. Now he returns, not with all the disciples this time, but only the insider troika of Peter, James and John.
Jesus leads his disciples up a mountain. He was forever making them go places with him that nobody much wanted to go. But this was different. Mountains are good, quiet, restorative places for Sabbath retreat, rest and renewal. The pace had been hectic, so they headed for the hills. But on the mountain everything changes. The disciples’ solitude is intruded upon by the dead. If Peter hoped to “find himself,” forget it. He is discovered by the two great figures of the faith—Moses and Elijah. There is stunning, transfiguring vision and inspired speech. Peter, jolted awake, listens in on the conversation between Jesus and the patriarchs.