"Light From the Mountains

“There's a spring in the mountain and it flows down to the town, from the river to the ocean, goes to whole world round that spring of water goes the whole world round."

The disciples examine the fresh wounds on Jesus's body after the resurrection

​​​Luke 9:28-43

February 27, 2022

Dr. Todd R. Wright It’s great to be a mountaineer! Maureen and I attended Mountain Stage last Sunday and sang along with the theme song: “There's a spring in the mountain and it flows down to the town, from the river to the ocean, goes to whole world round that spring of water goes the whole world round.”[2]

Which is ecologically true, but then Larry Groce, the songwriter, gets confessional: “There's a song in my heart. Just a simple little tune, but the rhythm and the melody won't leave me alone.” I wonder if Peter, James, and John felt that way. They were not mountain people; they were water people; fishermen. But after that time on the mountain, I wonder if they felt they had experienced something that would not leave them alone.

 

Karoline Lewis writes “Mountains are particular and poignant. They rise up from the plains of our lives to invite majesty and awe; wonder and fear; to call to mind the heights of the heavens and yet the reality of the valleys below.”[3]

The faithful knew all about mountains as places of awe and fear. The stories were told around campfires and dinner tables – stories of Moses climbing the mountain to meet with God and coming down, glowing with reflected glory, to bring the law; stories of Elijah standing on the mountain waiting for God to pass by and how God was finally revealed, not in the rush of wind or the power of mountains quaking or flames of fire, but in sheer silence! Of course, mountains are not only holy in stories. We have all experienced the power of standing on a summit and taking in a breathtaking view! That spark of holiness is why Rick endures the grind to climb 14ers; its why people build on Mount Alpha when it would be cheaper elsewhere; its why that overlook at Bluestone is special.

 

Still, as Heidi Neumark reminds us, “Living high up in the rarefied air isn’t the point.”[4] Luke senses this. That why he doesn’t end this story on the mountain. He has us follow Jesus and the three disciples back down into the valley. No other gospel writer does. Neumark thinks she knows why. She writes, “[The transfiguration was] never meant as a private experience of spirituality removed from the public square. It was a vision to carry us down, a glimpse of unimagined possibility at ground level.” So Luke has us follow Jesus, from the splendor of the heights down into the shadows where there is a father worried about his son, desperate for healing, yearning for some sign of hope.

 

I started by saying, “It is great to be a mountaineer!” But most of us do not live on the mountaintop. They are a temporary escape; a place to gain clarity; to see further; or to restore our souls. Theologically, we live in the valley, in the shadows. We live where demons seize and maul and will scarcely loosen their grip. We live where all too often we feel powerless to protect those we love or to answer the needs of those asking for our help. Hasn’t that been part of what made COVID so frustrating? Like a demon it seized and mauled the economy; it slithered into our homes and schools and churches and sickened those we love; it left our healers exhausted and brokenhearted and searching for answers. We felt (maybe still feel) powerless. We followed the recommendations; we wore the masks; we stayed apart, and still COVID spread and killed and would not let go. Of course, COVID is just the most recent, most widespread, demon to frolic down in the valley. Drug addiction and depression, poverty and violence, cancer and dementia have too.

 

Luke knows this and so he invites us to cling to the transfiguration experience – to hold onto it like a torch as we face the shadow-world. By the glow of the one who shone with heavenly light on the summit, we see that just as Moses led an exodus from bondage, so Jesus will lead his people to freedom, because God is not content to stay at a distance, but comes to wherever there is need; we see that just as Elijah healed a widow’s only son, Jesus answers a father’s prayers, because the demons’ grip will not hold in the face of holy power. Oh, but you will protest, that was Jesus exercising his power, not the disciples! They are no more powerful after the transfiguration than they ever were. Neither are we. Are you sure? If the followers of Jesus were not transformed by what happened on the mountain, they would have fled from the shadows on the road to the cross, never to be seen again. If they were not transformed, they would have never believed in the resurrection. If they weren’t transformed, they would have never spent the rest of their lives in the valley. If we weren’t their descendants, we would be satisfied with staying on spiritual mountaintops. Instead, we have followed Jesus into the valleys, into the shadows, into the places where people are hurting and calling out for healing. Not because we have illusions of being saviors, but because we have been broken and needed healing just like them; because we have seen things on the mountaintop that have given us hope; and because the lingering glow from transfiguration has helped us to see in the dark. Amen

[1] “Transfiguration” from the St. John’s Bible, primary artist: Donald Jackson with contributions from Aidan Hart [2] “Simple Song” is the theme song for Mountain Stage [3] From “No Ordinary Mountaintop” her reflection on the text for Working Preacher, 1/31/16 [4] Quoted in Laurel Mathewson’s commentary on the text, “Glory goes forth” for the Christian Century, 2/4/13
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