September 3, 2009
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. – Mark 9
When the motel alarm blasted its harsh news at four in the morning, I immediately began second-guessing my ambitious plan to be on top of the mountain for sunrise. My spouse had no second thoughts on the matter, mostly because she had concluded from the get go it was a fool’s errand. Still, like groggy recruits at boot camp revile, we rolled out of bed and filed out to the car. At the top of Cadillac Mountain, now 4:40 a.m., I was astonished to discover three score of tourists strewn along the eastward rocks of the parking lot. Turns out we were not the only wearisome pilgrims.
We found an unclaimed boulder and settled in for the show. It was chilly, with a blanket-worthy breeze moving across the pavement. We must have looked a bit disheveled from the hasty ascent, as the man next to us held out his large open yellow box and inquired, “Cheerios?” (Nothing like toasted whole goodness at 1500 feet.)
All around us people were waiting, chatting about this or that: When should we swim today? Popovers at Jordan Pond? Did you call the kennel now that we are staying one more day? … the stuff of middle-class vacations. Each little huddle: a little world unto itself.
And then it started.
It’s a funny thing: I spent at least a week anticipating being “one of the first in the nation to see the sun rise,” and when it finally commenced all I wanted to do was look at the faces all around me. Those illuminated faces. Everyone, awash in the purest pinkish-orange I have ever noticed. Even my own little flesh-and-blood—already so vital in her toddler years—looked more alive than ever. And no one said a word, awash as we were in the stunning newness of another day.
What a difference the sun makes.
I like to imagine that the disciples in Mark 9 were not keen on making the hike up the high hill with Jesus. Indeed, when the goal is to seek the Lord, we are not always motivated to move upward either. First, there’s the hike itself, arduous and bumpy. But there is also the real possibility that we will be changed by the encounter—“bleached by light” as Mark suggests. That’s enough to keep a pilgrim down below, on the solid ground of “normal.”
Even so, at the summit, everything was made new again for Peter, James, and John—Jesus’ “Three Amigos”. Sacred solitude, up above the world. Engulfing light. Changing garments. And by the end, the divine voice of reaffirmation and summons (verse 7): “This is my beloved. Listen!” It must have been the case that the view from the top of this mountain affected their view of life back down below. Surely the vision of God’s beloved—illuminated, reaffirmed, sent forward—affected the way these fellows led their lives in the days that followed. Surely the bright light of God’s glory on their faces retrained their eyes to see God’s glory awash in the world. A new day.
What a difference the son makes.
It is for each of us, and together as a congregation, to know the grace of higher ground, of transfigured perspective. Let us regularly get up to a higher place—for prayer, for peace, for perspective. The hope is not merely for a reorganized to-do list, or that we would later put our shoulder more boldly the grindstone of life. The hope—indeed, the promise—is for illumination. We look and long for the bright light of the risen son, casting its gaze upon all our laboring, loving, and living.
Ready to climb?
Written by Ralph William Hawkins