When last we left Jesus and his friends, it was at the end of Chapter One of Mark's gospel. A lot had happened in just a few verses. John appeared in the wilderness, announcing the Messiah. Jesus turned up, was baptized, then driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted. He returned to Galilee, began his ministry, called disciples, healed in the synagogue, healed Peter's mother-in-law, went out to other towns to proclaim the message and healed a leper.
Whew. That was one intense chapter.
But now, as is its wont, the lectionary schedule of readings has picked us up just as we were ready to dive in to Chapter Two, and plopped us here, on this mountaintop, with Peter and James and John and Jesus ... and Elijah and Moses!
And -- as Talking Heads memorably said -- you may ask yourself, well ... how did I get here?
The Last Sunday after Epiphany is always given over to this story of the Transfiguration. Whether or not it makes any sense. So we have gone from Chapter Two to Chapter Nine of Mark in the blink of a week. What have we missed in the interim?
Healings, controversies, fights with Pharisees and others, calling of the twelve apostles, casting out of demons, telling of parables (which no one understands), the beheading of John the Baptist, feeding of the 5,000, walking on water, and finally, finally, after chapters and chapters of no one understanding who he really is, he asks his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?"
And Peter says "You are the Christ," and Jesus begins to tell them that the Son of Man must go to Jerusalem and be handed over to the authorities and be crucified and on the third day be raised. And Peter doesn't like this idea and scolds Jesus, and Jesus lays him out and says "Get back, Satan!"
And tells us what it means to follow him: "If any would be my disciple, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."
OK, NOW we can talk about what Jesus and his friends are doing on this mountaintop.
This mountain top is the hinge point of Mark's gospel. On the front side of it, only the demons know who Jesus is. His identity is a secret. He does great deeds of power. He heals, he exorcises. Now, here on this mountain, his friends hear the voice that only Jesus heard at his baptism. The voice from heaven that declares Jesus his son. They see Moses and Elijah, the law and the prophets. They see Jesus as he appears to his Father, shining and pure and good.
Everything after this is an inexorable walk to the cross. There are few, if any healings after this moment. Jesus seems powerless, yet powerfully focused on the road to Jerusalem. He is on the move, teaching his friends what must happen, yet they don't get it. He is trying to explain to them what it looks like to walk the way of the cross.
We pause here, on the mountain, looking down at the road out of Epiphany into Lent, the road that leads to the cross. We know who Jesus is in this moment of glory on the peak. Will we recognize him when he is lifted up, broken and battered, on that cross?
That is the question for the next six weeks. How shall we answer it?