Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. (NRSV).
The ‘sayings’ Jesus has recently offered in regard to his coming death and resurrection must have taken some digesting. Perhaps it is just as difficult for later readers. We start this passage with an acknowledged gap of ‘eight days’. Jesus told his disciples of his coming passion and then took a week’s silence!
It is fitting. There is something weighty about the invitation to ‘deny…and take up’ this tool of execution. But it is more. It is an invite – a re-invite – to go where Jesus goes. It is Jesus’ re-call to ‘follow me’. Jesus is passing through death and inviting his disciples to come after him.
It is somewhat confronting.
And so Jesus initiates a mini-pilgrimage. Eight days silence and then a hike to the top of ‘the mountian’.
There is purpose here. They travel to pray. As they do their perspective changes.
Our account is told, I suggest, from the point-of-view of Jesus’ companions: They saw the two men; they saw his glory; they were terrified, and; they kept silent.
Yes, there are witnesses to these events: Peter, James, and John. Our writer seems to know a lot – right down to Peter’s ‘not knowing what he said’. I wonder if Luke has spoken to them?
Strangely, we are told nothing of the dialogue between Jesus, Moses and Elijah. It is, however, quite clear that there was a conversation. These giants of the Hebrew scriptures are ‘talking’ to Jesus. The only hint at content is the cryptic ‘speaking of his departure’. It will occur in ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘accomplish’ something.
But what? It is a good question – although Luke will not tell too soon. The accomplishment of Jesus is something this story will only fully reveal as it unfolds. For now we need to journey this road – hearing this story in expectation and trust and reminding ourselves of the constant language Luke has employed – salvation. It is asking nothing more of us than of Peter, James, and John – faith.
This dazzling conversation went on right into the night. The inner three are tired but have succeeded in maintaining their vigilance. Now, it would seem, this conversation and its unveiling of Jesus are coming to an end.
Peter’s offer to construct shelters is both rushed and revealing. He does not want these legends to leave. It is an offer designed to keep them longer. He will build a covering and encourage them to stay. It does not suit him for this encounter to end.
But end it does – with God’s cloud to cover and a voice to re-direct their starstruck attention. Yes, this voice is not, as it was at Jesus baptism, for the Messiah. Here it is for the disciples: ‘‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’. God is talking to Peter, James, and John.
Listen to him. It would seem such an easy task as the mighty voice of God bounces around the mountain wall.
But all too soon they will be alone and descending in the same fashion as they ascended – alone with Jesus in the silence. It will be a time to meditate; chew it over; hold it close. It has been such a perfectly timed and needed gift.
Perhaps listening to this one is not as easy as it seems.
Only time will tell if all this is enough to hold them strong for the remainder of this journey.