Seasons of Silence
Text: Mark 9:2-9
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
All people know what mountaintop experiences feel like. The feeling of standing at the height of your powers, or some monumental accomplishment, the confidence, the pride—everyone has had these moments living in the highest of highs. Even God’s people have these mountaintop experiences together, collectively. In Scripture, they even often they took place on the literal tops of actual mountains. At Mount Sinai, as Moses went up to the cloud that was wrapped around the mountain, Israel saw the power of their God, the God who had chosen them and saved them with acts of terrifying majesty from Egypt’s cruel grip of slavery. At the summit of Mount Carmel, Elijah proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the God of Israel was the one true God as fire fell from heaven to consume the sacrifice there, while the priests of the false god Baal were embarrassed and then defeated in a short, one-sided battle that followed. These were moments of victory, of glory.
But for any who have continued reading, these mountaintop moments were quickly followed by low points. After the revealing of God’s overwhelming glory on Mount Sinai, Moses came back down the mountain to find the Israelites worshiping an idol, a golden calf of their own making, pretending that this thing was the same Lord who had rescued them. After Elijah’s victory on Mount Carmel, he found himself running for his life when Queen Jezebel promised to slaughter him for showing up her priests in that contest.
So in our mountaintop experience in the Gospel reading today, the Transfiguration of Jesus, we can’t really blame Peter for wanting to stay in the warm glow of that high point. “Rabbi,” Peter said, “it is good that we are here. Let us make three tabernacles, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Peter knew what was waiting for them down there: mocking, hostility, unbelief. The Pharisees were already plotting and scheming. Herod was still on the throne. The disciples, and Jesus Himself, were constantly under fire. So why not avoid all that negative stuff? Why not hold this glorious moment? He would build three tabernacles, just like Israel had in the good old days, the days when God performed miracles and signs, when prophets won, when everyone knew God was on their side. It would be a return to glory, a place they could hold onto the brightness of the moment, where people could come and see Jesus in His splendor.
We would have it that way too. Avoiding the cross, avoiding pain, strife, hardship—how much of our life is dedicated to those tasks? We would also have a return to glory, hit the pause button on the mountaintop, whether it’s the glory we see in the Law of Mount Sinai, or the rush of defeating our opponents on the top of Mount Carmel, or whatever other mountaintops come to our minds when we think of when we were on top of it all. We chase that same high, wanting to show everyone just how great and shining and heroic and glorious we really are. It happens in our personal lives as we constantly seek approval from others. It happens in the life of a congregation, as groups within either longingly look back at the peaks in the past or have high hopes for a future that’s deemed successful by the world’s standards. It happens to groups of people in a society, who think that if they could just climb a little higher, just get a little more power, that then the glory of their ideas, the fulfillment of their cultural dream would shine brightly for all to see and revere. No matter the mountaintop, we all want to dwell on it.
We can’t be too hard on Peter because we think and speak like him all too often. Mark tells us that Peter laid out his idea for three tabernacles because he did not know what to say because they were terrified. Nor do we know what to say, or even what to want, usually because we’re afraid of what’s down there, in the low spots, away from the mountaintop we want to cling to. We’re afraid of what will happen if we don’t have the glory of Mount Sinai or the victory of Mount Carmel or the majesty of being transfigured. And out of our fear—our fear of hardship, our fear of suffering, our fear of appearing unglorious—out of our fear we speak.
This is why our Lord teaches us. When Peter does not know what to say, the Lord overshadows them in the cloud of glory, the same cloud that once overshadowed the great tabernacle and temple, and He teaches them—and us—that we should not speak from our fear. We shouldn’t form our wants out of what we’re afraid we will or won’t be, what we might or might not experience. Instead, we should listen. “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him,” God the Father instructs. For it is in listening that we find the only solution to our fear, to our glory addiction: the solution is Jesus only.
“This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.” And what is it that Jesus says right after this instruction from the Father? “And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” He tells them to be silent for a season, to tell no one about this glory, until Easter, when the Son of Man is risen from the dead. Do not speak of glory, do not thirst for glory, until the resurrection. He’ll be there with them after the mountaintop, back in the low places. He’ll be there with them for the mocking, the hostility, the unbelief. He’ll be there as their opponents scheme and plot and maneuver against them. He’ll go through it all—and more—with them. He’ll go through it all for them. He’ll carry the cross. He’ll teach His disciples, us included, how to carry it too.
For it’s in those seasons of cross-bearing, after mountaintops, that we learn and grow the most. Moses learned about faith in his trials: the thirsty desert wandering, the attacks from fiery serpents, the hungry days traveling toward a promise they had not yet seen with their eyes. But through those things Moses learned that God would save His people every time, at the Red Sea, with daily manna, with healing and forgiveness. Elijah learned during his time on the run that the Lord would preserve him from the threats and political machinations of Queen Jezebel; that the Lord had reserved for Himself 7000 of His people who would remain pure and holy in faith.
And what has the Lord taught you about faith, perseverance, daily bread, during your less-than-glorious seasons of life? What low points has He brought you through, time and again, showing you that He really does provide you with what you need, that He really does deliver you? What will He teach you through this coming season of Lent, when we’re instructed to listen to Jesus, when the glory is put aside for a while? What will you learn while the alleluias are set down and our songs of praise are muted until the Son of Man is raised from the dead? During this coming time, listen. Jesus is speaking to you in His Word. He’s teaching you through your trials, through your crosses. He’s bearing the cross with you. He’s bearing the cross for you. And when He is raised from the dead you will sing again, with a better and fuller understanding of what you say and sing and chant. You will see the glory again—with clearer eyes, with a faith-strengthened heart—the glory of eternal life, a life with Christ that can never die, a life of forgiveness and peace, the life of the world to come. In the name of Jesus, who teaches us. Amen.