Mountain Top Memories

By Dr. Bill Mankin

 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. (Mark 9:2-4, NIV)

It’s a familiar conversational gambit: if you could have dinner and deep conversation with any historical figure, whom would you choose?  Or, its dual question: if you could overhear the conversation between two historical characters, whom would you choose?  A physicist might choose to hear Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein discuss relative motion.  A preacher might want to hear Harry Emerson Fosdick and Fred Craddock debate how to create a sermon.  An artist might choose a dialog between Michelangelo and Picasso about the function of art.  A historian would rejoice to hear Herodotus, the Greek father of history, and Edward Gibbon, the chronicler of the late Roman Empire. 

For a first century Jew, the question would be a no brainer.  Moses and Elijah.  Moses—the great leader of the escape from Egypt and the deliverer of God’s covenant law on Sinai.  Elijah—the first of the great prophets to challenge idolatry and abuse of royal power.  The only other contender might be the great military king, David. 

Jesus gave three of his disciples the opportunity to live this vision.  In an unearthly light, Moses and Elijah appear and converse with Jesus.  Mark gives no clue what they discussed, although Luke hints that it was Jesus’ upcoming passion.  We can conclude that the experience confirmed for Jesus his understanding of messiahship and the necessity of the cross.  The real conversation began when Peter suggests that this moment is good enough that they should dwell here and never move forward.  They were overshadowed—the word is the same the angel used to tell Mary how she would be a mother—by a cloud, an Old Testament image for the presence of God, and the voice of God told them that they should listen to Jesus.  Jesus had been telling them what kind of Messiah he was, but they wouldn’t or couldn’t listen to that concept.

How often do we react to a mountain top experience the way Peter did?  We want it never to end.  But if we stay in one place, we never experience what else God has in store for us.  We must move on.  The glow fades.  But the memory of the high experience remains with us.  There are times when we see Jesus transfigured, when we can see his glory and can affirm, “Yes, this is right.”  The lasting memory sustains us in later days when the dark night of the soul can make Christ seem distant.  We remember, “Yes, that was real!” and can believe that the memory is more true than the present discouragement.  And we can say with Eunice Tietjens “Once I stood in the white windy presence of eternity.”[1]

Prayer: God we give thanks for the grace of mountain top experiences, for your letting us get glimpses of eternity.  Keep these memories alive in our hearts to sustain us in darker days.  In the name of the Transfigured One, Amen.

Bill Mankin

Ministry and Mission Coach

Wyoming Cluster

[1] Eunice Tietjens, Profiles from China (New York:  Alfred  A. Knopf, 1917)

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