The Revised Common Lectionary is a book used to guide Protestant churches in worship. Certainly, not all Protestants follow it. After all, we who are Protestant are no less than that: Those who protest. My earliest spiritual mentors would have never used the Lectionary. It was only for the elitist “high church;” too restrictive, sure to “quench the Spirit;” and yes, it was far too Catholic.
These objections aside, I have learned that the Lectionary provides congregations – entire denominations – a structured, thematic reading of the Bible week after week. This allows parishioners to hear the full chorus of Scripture, not just a few favorite voices.
The Lectionary theme for this weekend is “The Transfiguration.” It was a stunning moment in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. As the gospel writers recall, Jesus and three of his disciples climbed to the top of a high mountain. There, “Jesus’ appearance was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Then Elijah and Moses appeared and began talking with Jesus. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.’”
Theologians have deliberated for centuries the significance and meaning of this story. I’ll leave the finer points of those discussions to others, except to say, that such a dazzling “mountain top experience” must have energized Jesus and his disciples for the journey before them.
They would need the boost, for their most trying days were about to begin. Jesus would descend the holy mountain, his disciples on his heels, and march toward Jerusalem; into controversy, into suffering, and on to a cross. The mountain was needed, because the journey into the valley lay immediately ahead – a valley chocked full of confusion, bewilderment, and more questions than answers.
Today, if you visit the traditional site of the Transfiguration, you go to Mt. Tabor. In my view, it is one of the most beautiful places in Israel. The green, fertile Holy Land stretches out in all directions beneath you, while the cooling winds of the Mediterranean dance in massive pine trees casting their shade.
It is easy to imagine heaven coming down to earth in a spot like that. But Jesus didn’t take the disciples up to the mountain to remain there, in heaven, so to speak. He took them there to fuel them; to bolster their faith; to encourage them for the valley below.
Of this be certain: You will have to go back down in the valley, for as sure as the occasional moments of glory, there is the daily task of gutting life out below. And as sure as the dazzle of heaven, is the dullness of earth.
Yes, we need the mountain. We should visit as often as we can to breathe lofty, rarified air. We watch heaven rip open and spill its contents to the ground. Then, encouraged and filled with wonder, we hit the trail , descending the mountaintop to live real lives of real faith in a real world.