This week we are treated to not just one but 2 mountain top experiences.
Matthew recounts how Jesus took Peter, James and John, the inner three, up a mountain where they observed his appearance change. Jesus’ face and clothes shone, and he was briefly observed in conversation with Elijah and Moses. Moses was no stranger to encountering God on a mountain top; most famously when he was given the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments (Exodus 24: 12-end). Then, he too was changed. We are told that his face shone so much that it frightened those who saw him (Exodus 34:29, 30). In response, Moses had to wear a veil until the glow diminished.
The parallels are, I hope, obvious. Jesus is the fulfilment of the Law and here he is seen in encounter with Moses, the channel through whom God passed the Law in the first place. The era set in place through Moses on Mount Sinai is coming to a close. Soon it will be the turn of the disciples to carry forward the next chapter; inaugurated by Jesus’ coming death and resurrection; continuity and change, pivoting around Jesus. Jesus is not replacing the Law, he is fulfilling it. Peter, James and John are given a preview; an insight into what is about to happen; an insight that would only make real sense after Jesus’ resurrection.
On this occasion, a cloud replaces the veil, and when the cloud passes normality returns. It is a strange event. Matthew refers to the encounter as a ‘vision’, yet it was seen by all 3 so it was certainly more than a dream. Since the day that sin first disrupted our relationship with God (Genesis 3), there has been a degree of separation. For the most part we can’t see beyond our very limited physical field of vision; so much remains veiled. Then, just occasionally, God pulls back the curtain to give us a glimpse of what lies beyond. Moses first encountered God at a burning bush and, generations before, Jacob had dreamt of a doorway and ladder between heaven and earth. The greatest revelation of all, to date, is the appearances of Jesus following his resurrection. Over the centuries, to this day, God lifts the veil for a moment. Such events are never expected, and are the more powerful for that.
Revd Philip Payne
The Sunday before Lent
The Notice Sheet for 19th February can be found here