On a bright, sunny morning Deb and I roared up the hair-raising switchbacks that climb the steep flanks of Mt. Tabor in Galilee, the place long identified with “a high mountain apart” mentioned in the Story of Jesus’ Transfiguration, as it is recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Along with a group of thirty pastors from Indiana, we rode up the mountain in the backs of ancient Mercedes Benz’s driven with fearless abandon by Arab Israelis from nearby Nazareth. At the summit a beautiful Florentine church welcomed us, surrounded by gardens filled with roses. The view was spectacular. To the East, the land descended gently to the shores of the sapphire Sea of Galilee, dotted with vineyards, Bougainvillea and groves of Eucalyptus. Beyond the sparkling waters, the Golan Heights rose up like a wall, beyond which lay the vastness of the Arabian Desert. To the West, Mt. Carmel could be seen, the site of Elijah’s victory over the priests of Baal. And on the very edge of sight, a whisper of the endless, wine-dark waters of the Mediterranean.
The Gospels describe how often Jesus would take a break from his ministry to seek respite and guidance in prayer. Sometimes he went away into the hills alone. Other times he took all or some of the Twelve with him. On this occasion, he took only his closest disciples: Peter, James and John. Together they climbed the steep flanks of the mountain, to spend a night together in prayer. We are told that Jesus was “transfigured”—that his face and raiment shone with dazzling light, revealing his Godhead veiled in humanity. The three fishermen saw Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus about his “exodus,” his coming “departure” in Jerusalem. They were speaking about his death. Then God drew near in a cloud covering the glory of what lies beyond all our powers to comprehend, and a Voice was heard saying, “This is my Beloved Son. Hear him!”
Miracles are by their very nature inexplicable. Yet this occasion was remembered long after the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection in Jerusalem by the community of believers gathered around Peter. “We were eye-witnesses of his majesty,” it says in 2 Peter, “…while we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Pet. 1:16-18). Paul speaks of this same glory and light when describing the light that shines from the hearts of believers. We are like “clay pots,” he says in 2 Corinthians 4:7. Yes–even cracked pots at that. We’re cracked by our sins and our imperfections and our mortality. Yet from those fissures the same light shines that shone from the face of Jesus: the light of God’s enduring, agape love that resides in our own hearts.
May your light shine too in these cloudy times we live in: with kindness and mercy and enduring, agape love. For as we seek to love others as Christ first loved us, we become more and more like him. Until one bright, sunny morning—we will see him as he is.