Whatever changes we may hope for in persons, church or society acquire a transcendent meaning only when they participate in the dynamic reality that has broken into the world in Christ. It is instructive that the most dramatic instance of change in the New Testament is a change in the physical figure of Jesus himself.
In the hospital emergency room, someone accidentally bumps into an aide carrying a bedpan, and urine sloshes onto the floor. After several hours of waiting, my mother is finally admitted. I pay for TV, but she does not have the strength to push the buttons on the remote. She can’t find the red button to call the nurse either. She tells me that last night she was taken down to a dungeon where she lay awake in terror. Now she wonders why someone left a black Scottish terrier in the corner of her room.
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.
The transfiguration story is dramatically staged on a mountain peak
lit with a bright, even blinding light. The mountain setting is
familiar: as an Arizona native, the landmarks of my world were Squaw
Peak, Camelback, North Mountain and South Mountain.
What did they expect when they set off with Jesus that afternoon? An intimate conversation among the four of them? A chance to talk Jesus out of that strange, scary stuff he had been saying about suffering and dying, about saving or losing their lives?