Today’s readings: 2 Kings 2:1-12; Mark 9:2-9
Things happen up mountains in the Bible. Big things. Important things.
In today’s Gospel reading we heard about the Transfiguration, that moment when, witnessed by Peter, James and John, Jesus is transformed, filled with God’s glory and blazing white, side by side with Moses and Elijah. And it happens up a mountain.
But it’s certainly not the first time that we hear of people having important encounters with God up a mountain – the Old Testament is full of significant events taking place on mountains. Noah’s Ark, at the end of the flood, landed on a mountain. Abraham took his son Isaac to the mountain of Moriah, ready in his faith to make any sacrifice to God, but instead, there on the mountain heard the voice of an angel saying he had proved his faith.
Moses, in today’s Gospel on the mountain with Jesus, was no stranger to holy encounters on mountains. He spoke with God on Mount Sinai more than once and was given the 10 Commandments there. In fact, God appeared to the whole people of Israel on Mount Sinai – and they hated it, they were terrified and begged Moses not to make them go through that again.
And this isn’t Elijah’s first big moment on a mountain either – it was on Mount Carmel that Elijah did battle with the priests of the Baal, calling down God’s fire on his altar, and it was also on Mount Carmel that he prayed and God ended the long drought that had afflicted the people for 3 years.
So in the Bible mountains are places where God reveals Godself to people, where God speaks to people and answers prayers, where they see something of the reality of God and it leaves them, like Peter, James and John, like the people of Israel on Mount Sinai, absolutely terrified.
A couple of weeks ago, you might remember, I was talking about thin places, places where something of God’s kingdom breaks through, places where we find it easier to feel God’s presence and hear God’s voice. I was talking about churches, but it’s clear that in the Bible, it’s mostly mountains that are thin places. It’s on mountains that God reveals Godself.
And that is what is happening here in our Gospel reading. In this thin place, up this mountain, the glory of God breaks through and the disciples see Jesus differently, like a glimpse through a window into a different reality, where Jesus stands at one and the same time in God’s kingdom, with Moses and Elijah by his side, and in the world of our reality, with Peter, James and John.
No wonder they are terrified. No wonder Peter starts babbling daft ideas about building tents.
You and I are unlikely ever to have this sort of encounter with God, though of course, we can still experience the presence of God, still find ourselves closer to God in the thin places. Admittedly, those thin places are harder to access right now – in a lockdown there are no churches to go to, no mountains to climb. But we can still encounter God. We just need to make a thin place in our lives.
In fact, a thin place in our lives is coming anyway. Lent. It starts on Wednesday and it is a time for us to be more intentional about our relationship with God. It’s a time for more prayer, more time with the Bible, a time to be quiet with God, to listen for God speaking into our lives.
And in fact we do have a metaphorical mountain to climb, because we have set ourselves quite a task, to read the whole of the Gospel of Mark as part of our Lent practice of prayer and scripture.
So I pray that Lent will be for all of us a thin place, a time of encounter, of drawing closer to God. A time when God reveals something of Godself to us, though I’d like it to be less terrifying than this encounter. And I pray that when Easter comes, we will all be transformed, filled with God’s glory as we celebrate the risen Christ. Amen