Our reading from the Hebrew text takes us to the mountain with Moses and Joshua, and the leaders of that community who have been on the exodus from Egypt, in an in-between time, expecting to arrive in the promised land. They’ve been learning about the law, what it means to live in God’s way, and now God calls to Moses, with Joshua, to climb the mountain and receive the law inscribed on stone tablets.
I went searching rabbinic commentaries and was intrigued by Rabbi Michael Alterman's comment pointing to the first verse of our text. The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; . . .Ve'yeh sham. . . (literally meaning `and be there’). And be there: Seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? Why would it even be necessary to give this instruction?
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, a leading 19th-century Chassidic rabbis, answers that sometimes we go to a place but we’re not actually there. Sometimes we expend a great deal of energy en route to our destination, yet arrive there with our head and thoughts back where we started.
God was telling Moses it’s not enough to climb the mountain, (whatever mountain is ours to climb individually or as a congregation). One must be fully present on the mountain, with complete attention and concentration, leaving behind all extraneous thoughts. Only then could Moses properly receive the Torah and be capable of passing it on to the Children of Israel. They were about to move into the Promised Land. Big change was coming! Pay attention! Be with me, Beloveds! Be in this moment! Notice I Am with you! Be with me!
Can we listen with such attention? Can we be fully present to this familiar text…
Exodus 24: 12-18
The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.’ So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. To the elders he had said, ‘Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.’
Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.
♫+MV42 “Praise God for This Holy Ground”
In our text from Matthew’s gospel Jesus has been preparing his disciples for what is to come. For some time they have been heading toward Jerusalem. Things are not looking good. Jesus takes three leaders up onto the mountain where they are gifted with one of those “aha!” moments of revelation. They’ve been trying to figure out who Jesus is. Is he “the One” who will deliver them from the present challenges and struggles? When they see Jesus in the light, with Moses and Elijah, they know — they are assured! — and they want to hold on to the moment — stay planted! — surely they’ve reached their goal! They know this is a holy moment, and they long to stay with it.
But Jesus says “No!” You can’t stay on the mountain top. Now you know who I am, and you have to act on what you know. You’ve glimpsed the light of holy love that is in me, that gives me courage to be who I am. That love and that light are also yours. Come down with me. See as I see. Live as I live. Together we will move forward.
When we have an “aha!” moment — and they are rare! — we long to stay with it. It’s important to be in the moment — to let it take hold of us. But why? For what purpose? How are we called to move forward…
Matthew 17: 1-9
Jesus is transfigured on the mountain
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
Listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Church. Thanks be to God, Amen.