MOUNTAIN TOP ENCOUNTERS
About 8 days after Jesus had foretold his death and resurrection, He takes Peter, James and John up on a mountain to pray. On the mountaintop, and as the three disciples peer through their tired droopy eyes, they are suddenly mesmerized by what they see. The appearance of the face of Jesus changes, and his clothes become dazzling white. Then they see two men who stand talking to him. They “appear in glory!” This Greek word “doxa” corresponds closely to the glory, splendor, brilliance, from the base meaning of the awesome light that radiates from God’s presence and is often associated with a cloud.
Moses had a similar experience on Mt. Sinai into the cloud of God’s presence, God’s glory. Our reading from Exodus says that when he came out of the cloud off the mountain, the skin of his face would shine. His face was so bright that he had to wear a covering over it, and then take it off when he went back up into the cloud on the mountain to speak with God.
Elijah represented a prophet that carried the anointing of the Lord. Everyone recognized this anointing, especially the other prophets. Elisha, his assistant, was especially conscious of this fact and desired that anointing for his life. When he saw his mentor taken up in a whirlwind cloud, he took the cloak that belonged to Elijah, and he too became the anointed one. The encounter with the glory of God transformed and redirected his life. His life would never be the same again.
Peter, James and John, see this cloud, and out of this “glory cloud” they suddenly see two men, Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus. It says they appear in glory and are speaking about Jesus departure, which is about to take place in Jerusalem. The two saints, Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament. We don’t know everything they are talking about, but we do know they are discussing the future of Jesus, his death, resurrection and possibly the future of the church, as foretold in the Law and the Prophets.
So, on this mountain-top scene we have two of the most famous Old Testament Patriarchs, and facing them were three New Testament Patriarchs, and in the center of the scene is Jesus, with his face shining and his clothes dazzling white. And, time seems to disappear, and everyone is caught up in the moment, “kairos” time. There are two types of time we find ourselves in. Chronos time, which is the chronological, ordered time – it is based on seconds, minutes, hours. Kairos time is the alternative. This is the time outside of the sequential time we know and live in each day, a time when things of great magnitude or special significance happen. It’s almost a realm outside of ‘clock-based time’ all together. That’s what is happening in this magnificent setting on the mountain-top.
Peter, never knowing when to be quiet or to speak, speaks anyway. He says to Jesus: “It is good that we are here (indicating James and himself), let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah”. The scripture says he didn’t know what to say, but obviously felt like he had to say something. One translation says that Peter “blurted this out without thinking”. However, it appears to me that he was thinking. Moses and Elijah were taking off and Peter wanted to prolong the meeting. He was being pragmatic and hospitable. The word dwelling here could also be translated, tent, shelter, hut or booth. Peter is being hospitable, thinking that a tent will provide some privacy and escape from rain, wind or the sun. Maybe Peter didn’t get it, but he also did not want this experience to end, whatever it was. He wanted it to continue. Wouldn’t you?
Peter, James and John’s lives are changed through the experience with the cloud of glory, especially by the voice that comes from the cloud, saying: “This is my son, my chosen one; listen to him”! This cloud of glory experience is a game-changer for these guys. They would never see things the way they used to. They were transformed. They experienced a world-view transplant, a view of reality that was different than before.
When we have encounters with God, theophany’s, experiences with God, beyond the known to the unknown, it is always a game-changer. But, it’s not like we have all the answers. If anything it shows us that we do not have all the answers. We don’t have all the answers, and experiences with this cloud of glory are more than we can understand or comprehend. It changes us.
What we now have as Christians is free access to God, and as we read in the Law and the Prophets before Jesus, the people were fearful, and they were terrified of the cloud of glory that Moses alone went into on the mountain-top. The prophets of old did not lead the people into the cloud, for their own safety. Jesus Christ has brought a game-changer to us through his resurrected life and resurrected invitation to everyone, to join him in this glorious cloud of Unknowing.
Jesus has come to tabernacle among us, and with us. He has moved into our neighborhood. This is something that Peter did not understand, and maybe if he did he wouldn’t have spoken on the mountain. But, he probably would have spoke anyway, because that’s one of the ways we identify preachers, men and women that are not afraid of saying anything that comes to their minds, whether or not it should be said. Jesus message to us from this passage is this: “I don’t need a separate tabernacle or tent”. In the resurrected life, we become the tabernacle, the tent, the shelter, the place where the glory cloud lives, in each of us and in the church. (John 1)
“I will dwell with you and be among you. I will be with you all the time” (John 14). We all have the opportunity to spend time with the resurrected Christ daily, to have communion in the most holy place, the holy of holies, to enter into the cloud, anytime we choose. There are special times when that happen, and when it does, we like Peter, don’t want those experiences to end. God is here in this place. The Holy Spirit is here in this place. “This is God’s holy ground and you are Gods holy people”. (Exodus 3:5)
The church is God’s tabernacle. The church is a place where Gods glory dwells. It’s a special place. But, we also need to be reminded that wherever we are at, on the beach, in the hubbub of the city, in our private rooms, we can have communion, we can enjoy the glory of heaven, right here, on this earth.