In the middle of the summer, the Church takes a moment to celebrate the Transfiguration—that very strange moment in the life of Jesus and three of his best friends, Peter, James, and his brother John. Jesus takes them away, by themselves, for what seems at first to be an ordinary hike up a mountain. But in the Bible, when we hear about people going up a mountain, that is a sign for us. There is going to be an encounter with God.
People who live near the Rocky Mountains in Canada or the United States, people who have seen pictures of the Himalayan mountains or the Swiss Alps—laugh at the mountains of Israel. The mountains of Israel are really not all that big; they are more like large hills. Not at all like Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world! Not difficult to climb at all! But it is on these mountains of Israel and those of Egypt that people in the Bible have encounters with God. We can think about that and what it tells us... If it is not too difficult for people to get up the mountain, how much does God want to have an encounter with us?
And oh, the encounter Peter, James, and his brother John have!
And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.
Jesus—the same Jesus they know and love—begins to shine with a great dazzling light. He is more than he has ever seemed before. Who is he, if he shines like this?
Something strange happens to time, too.
Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.
Two people who lived and died more than 500 years before, now appear and talk with Jesus. Why these two people?
Moses is the one to receive the law in the Torah, the Word of God.
Elijah is the prophet that people think will return to announce the coming of the great light sent by God.
This is all so wonderful that Peter wants this time to go on and on. He says,
“Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
A dwelling is a home, a place to live. The word Peter uses, "dwelling," is the same word for "tent." Peter wants to pitch three tents to make a home for Jesus and these two great men. Maybe Peter hopes they will live here and he can come to visit. Maybe he wants this time to go on and on and on.
But Jesus does not want to dwell on the mountain. St. John, the one who goes up the mountain with Peter and James and sees these great things, says,
"And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory" (John 1:14)
Jesus wants to dwell with us. The mountain encounter is not a permanent arrangement. Jesus will come down the mountain again and live among the people, and journey towards the cross and the Resurrection.
The encounter on the mountain, though, is not over yet! Now they hear God the Father speak:
This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased
These are words we have heard before. St. Matthew records the words of God the Father at Jesus's Baptism:
“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
The same words!
(Okay, okay, one word is different.)
But at this moment, God adds one more thing,
listen to him!
Well, that is pretty clear, is it not?
A clear instruction from God the Father.
Just as the sheep of the Good Shepherd listen to him and follow, so Peter and James and his brother John know to listen to Jesus. They follow him down the mountain, towards the cross and the Resurrection.
Listen to Jesus.
We can do that, too.
We are doing it already, today, as we listen to the Word of God, as we think about it, as we talk about it together.
In the middle of the summer, we remember this encounter with God on the mountain. We decide again to listen to Jesus.
One more thing. That word for dwelling—the word that means tent—also means tabernacle. In the Bible, the Jewish people keep the Word of God in a tent they call a tabernacle—a place for God to dwell. In each of our churches there is a tabernacle. Inside the tabernacle is the bread that is holy, the bread that has become the Risen Jesus for us. Why does the bread become the Risen Jesus for us? From the account of the Transfiguration, we know that Jesus wants to dwell with us.
We listen to Jesus in the Word,
we visit the tabernacle—
both places where we know Jesus pitches his tent among us.