by Sr Mary Jadwiga Swiatecka
First Reading: Abraham and Isaac Gospel: Mark 9:2-9: The Transfiguration.
Now, according to Mr. Google, there are 7 significant mountains in the Bible. The first mentioned is Mt. Ararat, which is where Noah’s ark came to ground after the flood, and where God made His pact with Noah, that there would be no more floods, the sign being a rainbow. The second, Mt. Moriah, was where – as in tomorrow’s first reading - Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac, but the angel of God prevented him from so doing. The third is Mt. Sinai, on which God gave the commandments to Moses, and at the foot of which the Israelites built their Golden Calf. The fourth, Mt. Pisgah, or Nebo, less well remembered, is the peak from which Moses had a peep at the land which God was to give to the Israelites as their homeland and which Moses was debarred from entering.The fifth is Mt. Carmel, where Elijah had his contest with the priests of the temple, when his soaked wood caught fire, theirs having failed to do so.
The sixth – nearly there! – is either Mt. Hermon or Mt. Tabor: the cause of the uncertainty is because there are three peaks, and it is uncertain which of these three is today’s mountain of the Transfiguration, the last of the seven being, of course, the mountain from which Our Lord ascended into heaven, which is usually thought to be Mt. Olivet. All these mountain episodes are, of course highly significant occurrences, as, of course, mountains themselves are – which, no doubt is why they are linked.
I’m sure most of us will have been up some mountain, or some hill or other at some time in our lives. Why do we bother? Because of the view we get from the top, of course. Even round here, as most of you will know, and even though Staffordshire is not known as a hilly county there are the Roaches, and there is Mow Cop, both of which provide wide-open vistas, even though, in themselves, they are not that high – and both similar in height to Mt. Tabor. (1800 ft. and 2000ft. Mt. Tabor 1880. ) But, unlike us, people of previous ages, didn’t go up mountains for views: they lived too close to the soil, to everyday agricultural tasks to think of the countryside as something to go and look at. However, now – and most especially in these lockdown times - now that so many people live in high rise flats, with perhaps a tiny balcony; or with nothing more than a very small garden whose views are obstructed by fences and other suburban houses exactly the same as their own, the desire to look at something wider, less enclosed, has become one of the things many people do long for, do desire. But for Our Lord to take three of his disciples up a mountain was in itself an odder thing to do then than it would be now. And Mt. Tabor itself is a very odd sort of mountain: like an upturned pudding basin, and looking as if nothing at all grows on it: not, then, a place where one would normally take one’s friends for a walk. So one must assume that the impulse, the necessity, to go up there with Peter James and John must have been exceedingly compelling. Why so?
The passage in Mark which immediately precedes the account of the transfiguration – and which, we are told, takes place six days earlier – is one in which Peter shows his utter incomprehension of Christ’s mission, and in which the impending threat posed by the scribes and Pharisees is highlighted. In those six days Our Lord may well have come to apprehend what sort of a future – however short or long – his teaching, and his whole way of life, might be leading him to, and being, as he was, human, he may well have needed (and knew his friends would need) the reassurance for himself, as much as for them, which only something of exceptional significance could provide. We may think of the Transfiguration as a manifestation of Christ’s glory for the apostles, but surely it was also a reassurance which he himself may have needed. We do, I think, have to remember, that Our Lord was no less human than we are, though he did not sin, and because he did not sin, so much more alive to the world around him than we can ever be.
And so we, too, at the beginning of Lent, a season of…supposed…hardship? are reminded of the transfiguration we are waiting for during this season: the transfiguration which is Christ’s rising from his death: namely, Easter and the secular and religious festivities that go with it. But Easter, Christ’s rising from the dead, is itself ‘only’ (if only is the word) a preliminary of what eventually may await us all, for we, too, as the gathered Church, are ‘the body of Christ’. And what awaits us after death is a wholly bewildering joy and beauty such as we cannot even begin to imagine…Whatever it is that now brings us – as individuals, but also together – laughter, delight, bliss, wonder, fulfilment - it is, perhaps, impossible to find the right word – each and all these will be ours, ours to have and to hold and never to let go.
So I would like to end with a short poem, which seems to me to catch something of the exhilaration which might in the end be ours:
I am wild, I will sing to the trees,
I will sing to the stars in the sky,
I love, I am loved, he is mine,
Now at last I can die!
I am sandaled with wind and with flame,
I have heart-fire and singing to give,
I can tread on the grass or the stars,
Now at last I can live!
Sara Teasdale (19th.C. American poet)