Ascending the Mountain; Feast of the Transfiguration

Image: Lay Missionaries, Ray and Therese Steiner and family enjoying a mountaintop experience .(Photo by the Steiner family)
2 Peter 1.16-19 | Psalm 97 | Matthew 17.1-9

In the Gospel reading for today’s feast, Jesus leads his friends Peter, James and John to the top of the mountain where they will receive a glimpse of the divine. Let us leave aside for a moment that glorious revelation and focus instead upon what brought them to that peak. It is hardly a full description to say that Jesus led them to the top of a high mountain because this completely overlooks the great effort that it took to reach that point.

I come from the province of Alberta and the Rocky Mountains were in my backyard. Many summers I have spent on hiking trips through the valleys and forests and climbing those peaks, and there is one thing I know for sure after arriving battered bruised and exhausted, is that there is no easy way to the top of the mountain.

It is no coincidence that in all three of Gospel accounts of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountaintop we first hear Jesus telling his listeners what it takes to be a true disciple of His. “If any want to be my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save it.” Yes, the trip to the top of the mountain is fraught with difficulty and it is symbolic of what Jesus is really asking of his followers.

Sometimes it’s difficult to be able to look beyond the suffering that we know the climb will cost us. Why do we follow a way that the world does not always recognize as valuable, are we deluding ourselves? Or it is because we have been given a promise.

A number of years ago my parents embarked on an adventure to Nepal to visit a family friend. While there, they undertook a strenuous, multi-day trek to a mountain peak in the Himalayas. As they neared the summit the sky was overcast and the top of the mountain was shrouded in cloud. My mom, exhausted and sick from the altitude, paused and was about to give up telling the others that she could not take one more step. At that moment the clouds lifted and the sun shone brilliantly on their final destination only a few hundred meters away. Given this ray of hope my mother’s face brightened and she stood up defiantly stating, “I can walk that far!”.

We have seen a glimpse of the peak and we know that if we take a few more steps we will arrive there, bruised and battered perhaps, but oh how much we will enjoy the view from up there. We know that the goal is worth every effort.

We are journeying to the mountaintop; and along the way we experience the suffering of the cross and in the midst of our struggle our hope lies in returning the reins of our lives to God. In a word we have experienced a taste of resurrection. As Peter says in the first reading, “We ourselves heard the voice from heaven… You will do well to be attentive to this lamp shining in a dark place.”