“Luke, I am your father;” the de-masking at the close of the Marriage of Figaro; the transformation of the Beast into Belle’s prince; the quite frankly bizarre moment in more than one Shakespeare play when a woman lets down her hair and only then do the rest of the dramatis personae realize she’s not a boy: we’re fascinated by these kinds of scenes, where a character’s true identity, hidden from other characters or even from the reader, gets made visible, when the dramatic x-ray machine cuts through flesh and marrow and discloses bone. This is the vision God granted these three disciples, a disclosure of the glorious light Christ was in their midst, in contrast to the hiddenness and homelessness with which he was more normally clothed. But this is not just a revelation about Jesus with no relevance for the rest of humanity; this is a preview of the glory of resurrection that awaits us. It’s a re-echoing of the heavenly voice from Christ’s baptism, the unwavering assertion of his beloved sonship, and another invitation to hear that voice speaking to us.
Peter, typically for him, half gets it. He gets that he’s to be amazed, his heart almost exploding with wonder, love and awe. He’s caught the beautiful bug of love for Jesus, but hasn’t caught on that he’s to feed Jesus’ sheep, that God would build him up so as he can lead others to that same glory. Just a chapter ago, he’d half gotten it before: making the marvelous confession the Jesus was the Christ, but stubbornly refusing to contemplate that would Christ suffer for him. Again, he gets the marvel, but doesn’t understand how things will go from here, what love will really look like. He wants to build tents. He wants to keep this scene pristine, like the scandal of a Stradivarius violin locked in a display case and never played. And, for a while, the mountain will keep its secret. “Do not tell this vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” We assume the disciples obeyed. At the time, they may have taken that as an extravagant way of saying “never tell this.”
But, the Son of Man has been raised from the dead. And, so, they told. And we’re to tell. We’re to tell that death has been conquered. Jesus has told it on another Mountain, standing after his resurrection, inviting, pleading “Go! Make of all disciples!”
Jesus has told it on the Mountain, and we’re to tell it in the plain: The heavenly realm is not so distant. It has come to earth, and longs to welcome us into its glory. It is not locked up in tents on a mountain accessible only to the inner sanctum of disciples. Peter has come down, not to build huts on a mountain, but a Church on earth. A proclaiming Church, a missionary Church, a Church which brings the Light of Mount Tabor to the darkest places of our earth. A Church which makes present Christ who reached out and touched his fearful disciples and bid them rise. A Church which goes out to the margins, which refuses to give ear to the prophets of doom, a pilgrim Church, and Church of prophetic sojourners.
A Church of Abrahams, a Church of Sarahs. Abraham refused to listen to the cold calculating rational voice that told him that he and his wife were barren. He listened to God’s voice, the voice of life, the voice of summons and promise, the promise that sent him on a pilgrimage, a dangerously open-ended pilgrimage on which he ventured not knowing what the future might bring. But the Transfiguration has shown us the destination. God promised that all would find blessing in Abraham, and we know that blessing. We know the light entrusted to us when God embraced us in baptism. Would that all would find that blessing in us!
What would it look life if we were a Church with the faith and fortitude of Peter? A Church with the trust to sojourn like Abraham and Sarah? If we need a more modern example, how about if we were a Church with the daring freedom of Harriet Tubman? Tubman was born into slavery around 1820 in Maryland. Like Abraham and Sarah, she had to resist the temptation to succumb to the voice which spoke to her of barrenness, that claimed she was a thing, a possession, not a person with potential and promise, a blesséd one with blessing to carry. God called her up to the mountain spiritually, speaking to her in trances she experienced from her childhood on. And then she escaped, she climbed that mountain in a different sense by walking under cover of darkness into free Pennsylvania. She later wrote that when she crossed the state line, she stared in wonder at her hands. “Am I the same person?” she asked herself. “There was such a glory over everything and I felt like I was in heaven.”
Imagine the great temptation to never go near that state line again, to build tents, sturdy tents, and lock herself in that experience. But that’s not freedom. That’s not what she climbed the mountain for. So, she went back to the plain. Over the next twelve years, she made nineteen trips back to Pharaoh’s land, rescuing over three hundred slaves.
Christ will reach out and touch us when we’re afraid, will bid us rise, will break the bonds of sin and death and lead us into freedom. The earthquake-like resurrection has broken the barriers and heaven has come down to earth, to the lowest plains. We are walking through a world bathed in His grace. There is such a glory over everything. Can we keep our eyes fixed on that, when all seems gloomy, and lead others into that glory?