One of the most memorable and unusual hills I’ve ever climbed in the Lake District, is called Catbells.
It overlooks Lake Derwentwater in Keswick.
Many of you will probably have heard of it. It’s quite steep, and its main summit reaches a height of 451 metres.
For those of you who are determined to hold out against all things metric, and will be still be thinking in stones, pounds, feet and inches, by the time the London Olympics arrive, you may like to know that this is actually a height of 1481 feet.
It’s a hill I don’t particularly want to climb again, my knees won’t take it these days and it was always a little frustrating years and years ago, to see our young children skipping to the summit three times there and back, by the time we got there with red faces, quite out of breath!
This hill reminds me of our gospel reading today, because as you climb Catbells it appears to have many summits, so just when you think you’ve reached the top of the hill, and you’re planning to have a well deserved rest, yet another summit keeps popping up ahead and you realize you’ve still got much further to climb.
I’ve preached quite a few sermons on the Transfiguration of Jesus, and still I keep on finding different summits or plateaus of understanding and discovery similar to Catbells.
Just when you think you have it all sorted, and you think you’ve researched all there is to know, some new insight pops into view.
Experts disagree over whether the mountain in our gospel was Mt Hermon or Mt Tabor but whichever it was, it was a still place, a place of solitude.
There, on that mountain the garments of Jesus became radiant. The word Mark uses was 'stilbein' ~ like the glistening gleam of gold or precious metal, and his face too, shone like the glare of sunlight.
Our word ‘metamorphosis’ comes from the word used here for ‘transfigure.’ The disciples were overcome with awe!
John and Peter never forgot this mountain top experience, and were to speak of it, years later, though at the time they were not given permission to tell others. But it clearly had a profound effect upon them.
‘We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only!’ says John in Jn 1.14
‘We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received honour and glory from God the Father, when the voice came from the Majestic glory saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 17.5) We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain.’ (2 Peter 1.16-18)
Why did Jesus climb this mountain?
How did God lead him there?
How did he know which disciples to take with him?
Did he need affirmation of the route that lay ahead for him?
Or did he go up there with his three friends simply to pray, as he did in Gethsemane just before he was arrested?
One thing is sure, however he was led there, he simply obeyed.
We too need to make time for mountain top experiences, quality time alone to reflect upon our faith commitment and re-assess our lives. We need time to hear what God is saying to us.
Also in this story we witness something of the revelation of who Jesus really was and is.
Many have claimed throughout history that Jesus was merely a good man, a notable teacher, a worker of strange deeds.
Some claim today in a very familiar way, of having him as a friend or best mate, a brother and a friend.
But here the disciples are given a wonderful preview of the one who would come to be known, as the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Scripture tells us that Jesus’ ‘divine nature had been veiled or curtained in human form’, but here at the top of the mountain, Peter, James and John could see through and beyond the veil, to a glimpse of GLORY, GOD’S GLORY, the ‘SHEKINAH’ ~ God incarnate in the Son.
Also Moses, the LAWGIVER and Elijah the PROPHET appeared and talked with Jesus about his death, which would soon take place! But God’s voice sounded from heaven-This is my Son ‘Listen to HIM!’
Did this demonstrate that the Law and the Prophets clearly had to give way to Jesus; for was Jesus not the fulfillment of the law and the fulfillment of the countless prophecies in the OT?
The new and living way WAS replacing the old.
The transfiguration of Jesus was a demonstration to three human witnesses that he was all he claimed to be!
There were also three heavenly witnesses now; Moses, Elijah and God himself.
The OT law stated that there had to be THREE witnesses to verify or attest to any fact…and here it was attested by both heaven and earth!
Finally, this gospel reading also says something about the disciples themselves, whose lives were soon about to take a dramatic turn.
Words spoken only six days before… ‘
‘Lord you are the Messiah the Son of the living God!’ would metamorphose into ‘I never knew him!’
The three memorials they wanted to build would become three trees of shame. (two thieves on crosses, on either side of Jesus )
These disciples who were keen to boldly follow in Jesus footsteps wherever he went, found themselves transformed into classic deserters when the going got rough.
The disciples probably thought they had arrived!
But no! They still had a lot of ground still to cover. Like Catbells!
AND YET we draw HOPE from this.
For they would turn again and regain their strength, and go on to do even greater things when Jesus returned to the Father.
We are shown here that we must not to lose heart. God is not finished with us yet!
Jesus was transformed there on a mountain, but the disciples would go on changing and being changed. Theirs and ours is a continuous process.
Jesus’ veil had been removed, we, on the other hand, have many veils to remove as we are daily changed into his likeness. It’s not a once for all experience we must have. Our own transfiguration will not happen in an instant. We are far from being perfect.
For some it must appear that we have a hefty programme of events coming soon.
At Good Shepherd we have an excellent, varied and ECUMENICAL Holy Week programme set out for us, with lots of new thoughts and ideas. We have two Lent courses, one within the Team, the other provided by WCWT.
There are questions we need to ask ourselves? Are we willing to keep with the process of learning?
How many of us will pledge to walk in Jesus’ footsteps over these coming weeks, from Lent to Easter, and climb the many plateaus and summits in order to seek out his will for each one of us and for our church?
What is it Jesus wants to demonstrate to us, what has he yet to reveal to us?
Do we want to find out?
Don't we want to see ourselves more and more transfigured in order to make ready for the plains down below the mountain?
Let us make every effort to attend and be a support to one another in our journeying.