Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain.Exodus 24:18 (Transfiguration Sunday)
In the short-lived hiking phase of my life, I made it to the top of half-a-dozen mountains in New Hampshire, and I carry a vivid memory of the view from one on an overcast day. Atmospheric conditions masked the reality I knew from a past trip to this mountaintop; instead of 360 degrees valleys and peaks, it looked like a sea of billowing waves in shades of bright grey, the mountains like little islands, with barely a difference in color-shading to mark where the sky began. It was the same view, and not the same; something I expected, yet something I had never seen before.
“Moses went up into the mountain of God,” Exodus 24:13 tells us, onto a mountain covered with a cloud, but not just a cloud; it was the glory of the LORD. Moses waited for six days while that glory “was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain;” at the foot of the mountain, the people could see it. God put on a show for them, but when Moses did not come down again for forty days, in their fear that he was gone for good and that there God was not going to save them, they melted all their gold down to create an idol to worship instead.
Peter, James, and John went up the mountain with Jesus, and they saw Moses and Elijah talking with him. They were fine until “a bright cloud overshadowed them” and the divine voice spoke, echoing the heavenly affirmation at Jesus’ baptism. Awestruck, fearful, the disciples threw themselves on the ground. They were in the presence of – what?!? Could they trust their perceptions?
In this era of propaganda and marketing, social media and political campaigns, our perceptions are being messed with all the time. What are we noticing? Has truth changed? How do we know if what we are seeing is real or true?
On the Day of Transfiguration, nothing essential about Jesus changed. What changed is what the disciples knew about him. They had known a friend, a teacher, a wise person; now they experienced the brightly blinding presence of the Divine declaring Jesus to be Son of God.
That day on the mountaintop, I let myself rest in my weather-addled perceptions. Maybe the clouds had something to say to me. To know the truth, be open to noticing something unexpected. We are the ones who will be changed.
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