As we’ve followed Jesus, from the edge of the baptismal waters, to the deep waters of faith-in-action in homes and synagogues, one thing has become clear. Following Jesus means that faith will lead us out of our comfort zones. And just before Jesus leads his followers up the mountaintop, this uncomfortable scene plays out, as Jesus spells out what it means to be a person of faith on this journey. We know only because we’ve heard how this story ends, but imagine being a disciple.
Imagine standing alongside and watching Jesus heal and perform miracles.
Those who were blind were able to see again.
Those confined to mats were able to walk again.
Those with debilitating disease were welcomed back into their community.
After reading our Pray for Me email this week, and the long list of sufferings and struggles of just those connected with our church, I couldn’t help but pray for the same miracles to be made known in the lives of those going through deep darkness. Imagine witnessing those miracles of healing, wellbeing, wholeness – there’s a reason why large groups of people followed Jesus. They wanted to see what he did next, so that at the beginning of the 8th Chapter of Mark, Jesus feeds thousands with very little. The miracles and demands of ministry were growing larger and more demanding, attracting people who didn’t fully understand the cost of discipleship. As the book The Cost of Discipleship reminds us,
“The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every [person] must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a [person], he bids him come and die.”
At the foot of the mountain, Jesus lays this out for his would-be followers. For our living is more about our dying – for we are called to seize each and every moment – to risk relationships and our very lives in order that all may live. This is the cross laid before us that calls us to a path of suffering and self-denial. This is what it means to be a Christian. And if you’re not squirming in your seat, you should be.
If you didn’t hear the verdict in the Colten Boushie case, and feel an ache in your soul, not for the retributive justice cried out for in the courtroom, but for the deep divisions which still exist in our society, which pull us back into old patterns of just another drunk Indian…just another redneck farmer…we’re better than this.
Or maybe we’re not. Maybe we’ve had two thousand years of the words of Jesus, to pick up our cross and walk into the darkness of this world, and it’s too difficult a journey. Reconciliation with First Nations people isn’t as simple as putting territory acknowledgements in bulletins, or even reading them out before concerts. That’s just self-righteous lip-service.
Real reconciliation means entering into the hurt of the court’s decision, the hurts of this crucifixion, that would see us blaming the victim:
Well, Jesus should have known better. I mean, he shouldn’t have criticised the Pharisees and Sadducees as often as he did. OR followed the rules of his society, and fell in line. Couldn’t he have waited and healed on a Monday, nobody likes Mondays anyways?? Why do it on a Sabbath and anger the ultra-religious? You’re just looking for a fight then. Why did he go where he wasn’t allowed, to go into a temple and start flipping tables, he got what was coming to him. What did he expect?
For Colten Boushie, and other First Nations people, their expectations are that they are twice as likely to die from avoidable causes than non-Aboriginals, with women at an even greater risk. We can victim blame, but growing up and watching those around you prematurely die, normalizes injustice.
And so, “deny [yourselves] and take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus calls. He calls this out to the crowds, and gives them a few days to think about it, so that when they come to the base of Mount Tabor, looking around to see the crowd had dispersed, he takes Peter and James and John up the mountain with him. Gone are those fickle crowds looking for the next show. Gone are the healed who have no more use for Jesus. Gone are the filled who are no longer hungry. Peter and James and John have heard the call to pick up their cross, and have stuck by Jesus, still not fully understanding what he meant. And if they thought they were confused then, upon the mountaintop, God does one better.
The story of the transfiguration is strange, mysterious,
And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
And he was transformed before them…and his clothes became dazzling white such as no one on earth could bleach them (and it wasn’t a Tide ad). And a cloud surrounded them and from it a voice spoke, echoing the words of baptism (Mark 1) “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
It is a confusing, mysterious experience that I’ll try to not over explain, because there is beauty in the mystery. That’s the difficulty of preaching – or at least my understanding of preaching – that it’s difficult to preach mystery. But I can no more explain the miracle of birth, than I can what happened on that mountaintop. With the rush of emotions that transcend explanation we get a glimpse of the world the way it should be.
“[God says] Discipleship is not limited to what you can comprehend – it must transcend all comprehension. Plunge into the deep waters beyond your own comprehension, and I will help you to comprehend even as I do. Bewilderment is the true comprehension. Not to know where you are going is the true knowledge. My comprehension transcends yours.”
Here, on the mountaintop, experiencing God face to face, ear to ear, eye to eye, surrounded by the cloud of mystery and knowing in this paradox of life where
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. (Mark 8)
Here, on the mountaintop, the disciples get a glimpse of the world the way it should be. And not as it has ever been before. Moses (Exodus) was the saviour of his people – leading them from Egypt, through dissention and difficulty, to the promised land, and he dies …but he dies knowing that he has completed his purpose, his mission. Elijah (1 Kings), a prophet for God when it was unpopular to do so, was faithful to God, and at the end of his life (2 Kings 2:1-14) passes the mantle to the next prophet (Elisha) and is raised into the heavens by a whirlwind and chariots of fire. And then there’s Jesus. A prophet of God, whose followers desert him, and he is crucified and left to die, just the same as the other criminals on the hill.
Yet, even then, in the loneliness of dying, in the suffering of our souls, in the darkness of death, God will be there revealing a rainbow of hope. I can’t explain it anymore than I can explain the power of a perfect moment. When we get a glimpse of the world, the way it should be. I’ve been blessed in my life to experience those moments, those mountaintop experiences that open my eyes to possibilities of what might be. Those moments sustain me in the times of darkness and shine, reminding me that even in those difficult moments, the life of God is there.
I would love to see transfiguration, transformation of our relationship with First Nations people, with my own eyes. To see a generation of young people filled with hope instead of despair. Or to see the transformation of the lives of all those on our Pray for Me list…to be able to witness to that re-configuring, transfiguring of their lives, and to somehow promise to them that even in the midst of great sorrow and disappointment today, that new life is possible.
For in the cold and snow of winter,
there’s a spring that waits to be,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.