We find ourselves this morning at a ‘pay attention’ moment in our scriptures. This is a: just in case you missed it, let us make this perfectly clear’, kind of story.
This important moment shows up in Matthew, Luke and of course our Gospel today, Mark.
In all three versions of this pericope, Jesus and his friends: Peter, James and John, climb a mountain just days after Jesus has told them how he is going to die. Six days after in both Matthew and Mark and eight days after in Luke. None of the stories say 7 days after, which I gather is important to note because seven is an important number in the Bible. It is the number of days used in the creation story, it’s the length of Passover, seven is a number that shows up over and over again in scriptures, it helps us to know when something is of significance. So, it’s maybe also compelling that these three Gospels seem to be avoiding the number and that might also tell us something important about this event. Maybe it tells us that this story about Jesus climbing this mountain with his friends, just happened on an ordinary day. I mean, he has just a few days earlier delivered some fairly important news about his death, which I can imagine would have taken them some time to digest, but now, on this day that is just like any other day, he gets his friends to climb a mountain with him to pray, which is maybe an ordinary thing to do – and then something extraordinary happens.
And we are to pay attention.
Suddenly we are told Jesus’ clothes turn whiter than it is even possible to bleach them and both Moses and Elijah are there too. Jesus is aligned with the prophetic and teaching traditions. Pay attention.
And just in case you missed it at his baptism when the heavens opened, and a similar voice spoke, and a dove descended: we are told once more that Jesus is God’s own child, to be listened to and is Beloved.
Peter wants to mark this spot, we assume so that they will remember, so that others who come after will remember too – even though Jesus will later tell them not to tell anyone. But they don’t. We aren’t told that they leave anything behind at all. Sometimes that’s not the point with these significant moments, we can leave a marker but more importantly, we have to carry these moments and what we learn in them with us.
I’m sure I’ve spoken about this before, but in my 20’s I spent a year travelling, much of my time was in South East Asia and while there, my travelling partner and I climbed several mountains in order to watch the sunrise. More than twice, we rose in what felt like the middle of the night in order to climb with headlamps so that we could be present for the dawning of a new day. There is something breath taking about being present for the moment when the sun breaks through the night and the light begins to stream and then to take over the whole earth. There is something about the beauty and possibility of witnessing the dawning of a new day and it’s particularly beautiful when you are on a mountain top with an unencumbered view. Things feel particularly possible there.
Sometimes people would leave something there to mark their viewing, a rock or symbol of some sort. Maybe they were marking a particular epiphany or an important conversation they had, or just wanted to say that they had been there. People like to have tangible markers for significant events. Not unlike when couples choose to put a lock on a fence or bridge to symbolize their love or the significance of their bond.
But what matters is what comes after. What happens because you have seen this thing? What is different in you because you have seen the dawning of a new day? Or what changes because you know love?
I actually think it’s significant that they did not create dwellings on top of the mountain where Jesus’ cloths turned white and God’s voice broke through. What is important is what they carried back down the mountain with them because of what they saw.
I think that it’s important that this was just an ordinary day until it wasn’t and what changed because of it. Because that is what life is like.
We all have ordinary days, until they aren’t. But what do we do because of those moments? What comes next because of what you know now? Because those moments are important but what really matters is how they impact your life going forward.
This coming week we will be preparing for an important season in our liturgical life: Lent. We are moving into our season of preparation, of prayer and fasting. This is the season that will take us to Easter, it’s moving us toward the most important day in our Christian calendar. The dawning of a new day.
It’s important that we notice the foreshadowing of the conversation that Jesus has prior to climbing the mountain, the one in which he tells his disciples what is coming, because it helps to set the course for where they are headed once they come back down.
Lent is that for us, it helps us to set a course. Where do we want to go? How do we want to be now? What do we need or want to shift in our relationship with Jesus? With ourselves? With the people that are important to us? What do we want to be different because of what we know about who Jesus is and what he taught? What do we want to pay attention to?
So, you might be thinking about giving something up or taking something on as a practice. As you prepare I’d like to suggest some questions that you might ask yourself:
How does what you want to do point you towards deepening your faith?
How does it connect you to the teachings of Jesus?
Is it connected to a particular baptismal covenant?
Is it just something you are doing so that you can say you are doing something?
To be clear, I don’t think there is a wrong way to do Lent. It might be that in this year of COVID’s continuation, you feel that you are doing enough or have given up enough and you probably are or have– just getting up and making it through another day might be enough. It is enough.
What I want to encourage us to think about, if you have the energy is, what difference does it make to you that Jesus is God’s beloved and that we are called to listen to them? What difference does it make to know that we are also God’s beloved? That we are enough and so are our neighbours. That we are disciples of Jesus who have heard the story of Jesus, Peter, James and John on the mountain top? Who, through this story have also heard God’s voice proclaiming belovedness.
Our Lenten practice can be like that marker that Peter wanted to make, like the stones that people leave on the top of mountains to remind themselves that they witnessed the dawning of a new day or like a lock hung as a symbol of love – reminders of something significant that changes us, our behaviour, the ways we love ourselves or others. There is nothing wrong with any of that. But many of us can climb a mountain or hang a lock, it can be more work but (and I’ll say it again) what happens when you get to the bottom? What changes once you’ve had the experience? How do you live differently or treat those around you because of the love you know?
So as we begin to prepare for what lies ahead I invite you to consider what you know and what you might like to be different in the ordinariness of your life? Because most days are just ordinary days, until they aren’t.