What was the best day in your whole life? Think back to a time when you had just the best day, where the feeling you got was so incredibly good that you would go back to that day in a heartbeat just to experience it again. We occasionally get those really awesome moments, when we feel like the whole world is lined up exactly as it should be, and we’re truly, completely happy.
I got that feeling the first time Hazel ever fell asleep on me. It was at the hospital; she was barely a day old yet. We’d read that early skin-to-skin contact with both parents promotes some kind of good development in babies, so I was giving it a try while Annie took a much-deserved rest. And Hazel’s warm little body was so sweetly pressed up against me, and she had a stuffy nose from all the birth fluids, so she snored like a tiny old man. The nurse came in to give us some kind of instructions, but I definitely have no recollection of what she said because I was completely lost in that moment.
When we have those moments, those days that glow with goodness and happiness, those are mountaintop experiences. They’re these great times we always cherish, momentary highs in the ordinariness of life. And some of us get blessed to have more mountaintops than others, but it doesn’t seem to take away from how wonderful they are when we experience them.
Peter, James, and John got a unique opportunity to have a mountaintop experience. I can imagine they must have felt something special was happening when they were the only ones that got to go with Jesus up the mountain that evening, but they couldn’t have expected what was waiting. Like nothing they’d ever seen before—Jesus suddenly glowed like the sun, his clothes dazzling white, with two people standing beside him who turned out to be the two most important figures in Jewish history—Moses and Elijah. It must have felt like they’d gotten an exclusive peek at heaven itself.
It’s really no surprise that Peter wanted to preserve the moment. He wanted to set up shop there on the mountain, make dwelling places so they’d never have to leave. If he could, he was going to make this moment last forever! And wouldn’t we all? That’s the most essential part of any mountaintop experience—you don’t want it to end. You want to hold onto that joy. But it does have to end. Peter, James, and John did have to go back down the mountain. Back to the ordinary world below.
And that’s usually the direction we’ve taken interpreting this scripture. Y’all know, I’ve preached the transfiguration a few times already and that tends to be my takeaway—you can’t stay on the mountain. You have to go back to the mission in the world. At best, the vision of Jesus transfigured is supposed to sustain us in the gloom and drudgery of working toward the kingdom in this broken world. But what about another way of seeing it?
Every year growing up, my mom and her family watched The Wizard of Oz when it came on television. And I remember watching it growing up too, but y’all remember the scene where Dorothy has brought the broomstick back to the wizard so she can go home? Toto runs off to the side and pulls a curtain back, where a quirky little man is pulling levers and twisting knobs, and the wizard booms “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”
It turns out the might and magic of Oz the Great and Powerful is nothing more than a special effects lightshow. How many things have we experienced where, when the curtain gets pulled back, it’s a disappointing reminder that magic just isn’t there; just ordinary people?
And it got me to thinking, isn’t pulling back the curtain exactly what happened on the mountain that day so long ago? God pulled back the curtain of what the disciples thought was reality, the ordinary Jesus on an ordinary mountain, to reveal—very suddenly—a dazzling figure of the cosmic Christ, clothed in robes more radiant than the sun, speaking to the long-dead heroes of the Jewish people. Suddenly heaven was breaking into earth. God pulled back the curtain, and instead of a stuttering old showman pulling knobs and levers, it was the shocking reality that the universe is absolutely soaked in the presence of God.
And if that’s what’s really behind the curtain of reality, then that means the fullness of God isn’t just found in those mountain experiences. The curtain’s been pulled back and rather than less magic we find that there’s more magic in the world than we could possibly imagine! We don’t just find God in the sunset, or in a baby’s laugh, or in a miraculous surgery. We find the fullness of God in those tremendously ordinary moments—on the commute, in the library, at the gym, in math class, putting together a puzzle, or shoveling the sidewalk. By pulling back the curtain, God gives us a chance to look for God’s activity in the most unexpected of places, at the most unexpected of times. God’s whole presence, God’s whole transfigured radiant presence, is everywhere!
So when Peter offered to build dwelling places—booths—for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, God’s own voice intervened to tell him how he could build them. “This is my beloved son--listen to him.” And that’s how we can carry the truth of what we saw behind the curtain back down the mountain! We carry that mountaintop experience down by remembering what we’ve seen on the mountain, what we saw behind the curtain.
We make room for Jesus to dwell permanently with us by listening to what he says, and doing it. The last few weeks we’ve been reading his Sermon on the Mount that give us a picture of what kind of kingdom Jesus is bringing, and we’re called to listen to him. He tells us about a reality where the poor and the mourning and the peacemakers and the meek are blessed. He tells us that we are salt for the sake of the earth, letting our goodness be the flavor that lifts the world. He tells us about how we’re called to be righteous and take the commands by their spirit, not just by their letter.
And we will listen to him. We’ll listen to him because the transfiguration wasn’t just some odd incident on a mountain long ago, but a moment when God pulled back the curtain on reality for us to see how the world really looks. And because we know that reality, because we’ve got the good news of what’s really up with the world, how it really works, we can live our lives like that’s what reality is. We can imagine boldly what God is calling us as a congregation to do for the sake of the world. We can dream big—really, really big—at the wonders God is calling us all to take part in with God’s mission on earth. We can look at scary things like budgets and statistics and a changing society and know that, in the midst of it, God is there, guiding us toward the kingdom from behind the curtain.
So get up, and don’t be afraid. God is with you.