Text study on Mark 9:2-9
Lectionary text for Transfiguration of Our Lord, Feb. 19, 2012
Finding God on the mountaintop has good biblical precedent. So when Jesus climbed the mountain in the midst of his teaching and preaching, he was engaging in a recognized faith practice.
He took his three friends with him — Peter, James and John. This was not to be a solitary encounter.
And what an encounter it was! First, Jesus glowed with an unearthly glow — unlike anything the triumvirate (or the Gospel author) could imagine.
They simply didn’t have the language or the imagination for it. Then, the ancient prophets Moses and Elijah, utterly recognizable, appeared alongside Jesus, all talking from their different reference points.
Peter, practical fellow that he was, despite his fear, offered to build three little shelters for the three luminaries. Finally, a cloud surrounded them, and a voice proclaimed. “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.”
I live on the edge of the “None Zone,” where people who claim a faith tradition are a curious minority and where many good people consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.” Many of these people are my friends. If pushed, they might say, “You know, I am much more likely to experience God on a mountaintop than in a church.”
And we do have mountains in Montana — the Rocky Mountains, and the foothills that reach out onto the prairies. We have plenty of mountaintop opportunities to encounter the divine — if you’re looking.
There is even a controversy on one our mountains in Montana involving a statue of Jesus. The pro-statue people remind me of Peter — wanting to have a concrete reminder. But in the end, it is the clouds that prevail.
I have been on a mountaintop when a cloud has come down. It is very disorienting. It’s not just that you cannot see — it is as if all your senses are muted.
The encounter with the divine is indeed disorienting. But disorientation can reorient our lives. It can raise far more questions than answers, and it can change your life forever. Maybe that’s why so many people in my part of the country seek out the mountains.
- How have you encountered God? Was it disorienting? Did you have any idea what was going on? How do you know?
- Does it take a mountain to have a mountaintop experience? How do you get back to reality afterwards? Or do you?
- Why did Jesus put a gag order on the disciples? Is it OK to talk about it now?
The Rev. Jessica Crist is bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA. A resident of Great Falls, she is married to Turner Graybill, a retired attorney. They are members of Bethel Lutheran Church in Great Falls. They have two adult children, Rhiannon and Raphael.