After roughly three years of public ministry, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a mountain and revealed His glory to them. They had spent day after day with Jesus as He walked from town to town, preaching the Gospel and calling sinners to repent. He told them many stories, spoke numerous parables, and worked shocking miracles in their midst. Despite the magnitude of these events, nothing quite prepared them for the moment when the glory of the Lord was revealed to them as on Mount Tabor.
Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother 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 fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them. Mark 9:2-10
The Feast of the Transfiguration
On the day we commemorate as the feast of the Transfiguration, Jesus revealed most clearly His divinity. There are several points to take in from the Gospel for the Transfiguration. Scripture, the Gospels in particular, is interesting for the details it provides and also for the details it lacks. Mark’s Gospel tells us that the clothes of Jesus become a dazzling white, more white than any bleach on earth. However, I find myself wanting to know what Jesus Himself looked like. What were His facial expressions? How would they describe the contours of His face? What happened in the hearts of Peter, James, and John at that moment? Perhaps those descriptions are beyond mere words.
The three disciples see that Jesus is conversing with Elijah and Moses, tremendously significant figures from the Old Testament. Peter, understandably, wants to remain in this place and that moment. He offers to make tents for the three figures conversing and expresses the goodness of being in that moment. To be with the Lord, away from the crowds and the rest of the disciples was one thing. To be in the Lord’s presence fully aware that He is God is an entirely different thing.
“Mt. Tabor Moments”
This moment of glory is one that Peter wants to revel in forever. Scripture scholars will tell us that Jesus provides His closest disciples this experience so as to prepare them for the impending horror of the Passion. Despite that, I strongly identify with Peter’s desire to remain in a place that he knows is good. I believe we all experience that at different times. We long to be in a place of fullness and thus we often cling to our “Mt. Tabor Moments.” These are moments when we experience the presence of the Lord, moments where we might proclaim we are happy enough to die, moments where the only thing we long for is more of what we are receiving.
One “Mt. Tabor moment” was when my cloistered sister was unexpectedly able to return to my parents’ farm for an hour. The sisters had asked us to drive a few sisters to another monastery on our way to my last year of college. My sister wasn’t one of them, but she was one of the sisters who came to drop them off at my parents’ house. That moment of embrace, the shining of the sun, and the strangeness of showing a few fully habited nuns around the farm was an ethereal experience. However, one of the most beautiful parts of the moment was accepting the little time we had and not sadly desiring more. The grace that stood out starkly in my mind was simple gratitude for the gift of my sister being with me and being able to embrace her.
In a different manner, some of the experiences of prayer I have had make me never want to leave my silent retreats. At the beginning of June, I went on a retreat and some of the hours of prayer focused on the Lord gazing at me with love. The situations varied from me being the woman at the well to being in the Potter’s house to being the woman anointing the feet of Jesus. In each of these situations, I was immersed in the Lord’s love. Each day, I would count how many days of the retreat I had left, thankful when it was several more days. As the end neared, I found myself nervous to leave. I wanted this moment of retreat to stretch on indefinitely. I was most definitely Peter as I reminded the Lord how good this time was and asked Him to let it continue forever.
Lord, Open our Hands to the Freedom of Receiving
“Rabbi, it is good that we are here,” Peter declares in the presence of God’s glory. So many times precede this event where Peter has had to say Yes to the Lord. He chose to follow Jesus, he chose to believe in Jesus, and he chose to surrender all he had for the sake of the Lord. A plenitude of gifts were poured out on this disciple because he was able to freely accept the grace of each moment. Confronted with God’s glory, Peter responds with the innate desire we have to dwell forever with God. He wants to live on that mountain, forgetting about the crowds of people, the rest of the disciples, and the cross. For Peter, that moment of glory is the one he wants to rest in forever.
Yet he is unable to simply rest forever in the glory of God at the peak of Mount Tabor. Instead, they journey down the mountain and, eventually, to the sorrowful events of the Passion. Peter received the gift in that moment of God’s tremendous glory and then he moved on, prepared to receive the other gifts that would be offered at later moments. If we work too hard to stay in a particular place because we love it, we will find that God’s will moves on beyond the consolation of the moment. The graced moments where we know the love of God, where we experience the peace that passes understanding, or where we wish we could remain forever are meant to be food for the journey.
From Tabor to Calvary: Heaven all the way to Heaven
As Peter, James, and John encountered the Lord of glory, they were being prepared to see the apparent failure of the cross. In the bleakness of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, they had the small hope of the Transfiguration remaining within their hearts. The same is true with the different moments of grace that the Lord provides for us. Whether it is in priceless moments with family, breathtaking moments in creation, or deep experiences of prayer, the Lord pours out His blessings with the intention of equipping us for the journey ahead. While we cannot go back and live ceaselessly in past memories, we can return to those times of peace and consolation, seeing what else the Lord has to offer us in the present.
The disciples didn’t continually experience the Transfiguration. It is because of the uniqueness of the moment that it made such an impression on them. Overall, my life is good, but there are definite moments when it is “extra good.” The ordinary moments, the ones not bathed in sunshine and glory but in a bit more hard reality, are preparing the way for a life that is transfigured. Just as Peter said Yes to Jesus a thousand times before the revelation on Mt. Tabor, so I must say Yes to Jesus in the daily, mundane acts of being faithful. It sometimes means a Yes in sorrow or pain, but each Yes makes straight the way of the Lord in my life.
Let us thank the Lord for the “Mt. Tabor Moments” and also for the Calvary moments. He is using all of it to transfigure us into faithful disciples who will follow Him from Tabor to Calvary to Heaven. “Rabbi, it is good that we are here!”