In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus chooses three of his closest friends go for a walk with him into the wilderness, up a mountain. It seems at first like an ordinary day, maybe a bit more special because they have alone time with Jesus, but then something extraordinary happens.
Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.
Something is happening that they hardly seem able to describe. Transfigured means Jesus looks different. It is still him standing before them, but now they can see something more, something beyond the ordinary. How can they make us understand? How can we imagine something dazzling white? How can we understand whiter than white? It seems that in Jesus they are seeing light itself.
And there appeared to them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
In this light, time changes. Peter and James and John see people who lived long ago speaking with Jesus. They see Moses, who encounters God on mountains, whose face shines with light after meeting with God. They see Elijah, a prophet who announces the Messiah, who listens so carefully that he hears the voice of God speaking to him in the wilderness. These people, long dead, appear to Peter and James and John, and speak with Jesus. What a gift it is for Peter and James and John to witness this extraordinary time! Peter knows that it is a gift:
Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter did not know what to say, for they were terrified.
St. Mark tells us that Peter and James and John are terrified--full of fear. Do we think this means that they are frightened? They are with Jesus and this moment is gift. Perhaps instead, this is holy fear, or "fear of the Lord." Perhaps instead, this is a gift of the Holy Spirit. We call this gift Wonder and Awe.
Full of Wonder and Awe, Peter does not think about what he is saying. He just speaks from his heart. He wants to make tents for Moses and Elijah and Jesus. He wants to make them a home, he wants them to abide there. Peter does not want this time to end. He wants to remain.
When Peter expresses this desire to abide, to remain, what does God do?
Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
Is this God's answer, then, to Peter's desire to remain? Listen to Jesus, God says. Is this how Peter can remain in that holy time with Jesus?
Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
The moment has passed. Moses and Elijah can no longer be seen. Jesus is transfigured again; he appears ordinary. The light seems to be gone. But this moment has pointed to something more. Jesus is more than ordinary.
Coming down the mountain must seem strange. Returning to ordinary life must seem dull. But God has told them how to remain, how to touch or see the extraordinary. Listen to him.
We know that we can listen to Jesus in prayer and also when we read the Bible. Is this how we can remain with Jesus? Is this how we can build a tent for him? I wonder what holy time is like when we listen to Jesus. What extraordinary things will we hear? What extraordinary things will we see?