“Overshadowed. Overwhelmed. Overjoyed!”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
I am not an avid hiker. Neither am I
one who would be confused with a mountain climber. However, there have been a
few very special moments when I have been able to ascend to the summit of a
handful of mountains. (Small mountains.)
I have taken youth groups on trips
during which we climbed to a ledge in Tuftonboro, New Hampshire that gave us a
lovely view of the valley and across to Mount Cranmore. We also climbed to the
top of the fire tower overlooking Allagash Lake.
I have stood atop ski slopes and
took in the vista before I carefully descended upon the slippery boards
attached to my feet.
One memorable moment was when I was
on the leadership team of a youth conference in Estes Park, Colorado. I got off
of the bus and was surrounded by the Rocky Mountain National Park and literally
stood there with my mouth hanging open. “Wow. Wow! Wow!!” was all I could say. A
couple of days later I climbed one of the trails and was astonished to see a
cactus next to me while I gazed across the way at a glacier!
Of course, the most memorable
moments were when I was in Israel. I stood on top of Masada and looked down
upon the Dead Sea. I stood on Har Megiddo and looked over the Jezreel Valley. I
stood upon the Mount of Olives and looked across at the Temple Mount. I stood
on a hillside that might have been the location of the Sermon on the Mount.
I love mountain top moments. I love
the special feeling that I get when I can take in so much of God’s grandeur. I
love the perspective that one gets above the trees. Whenever I was with the
youth, I wanted them to have an appreciation for the majesty and the beauty of
Creation. Standing there it is easy to feel close to God.
All of those feelings were elevated
when I was in Israel. In each moment I thought that I could very well have been
walking upon ground that Jesus walked upon. Each stone, each rocky path may
have been touched by him. I walked slowly and tried to soak it all in.
In the passage that we read this
morning, Jesus and the disciples were not on a sight-seeing tour. They were probably
not on that mountain top to take in the vista. Or so we assume. Because the
reality is that we do not know much about this event.
The Transfiguration of Jesus is an
event that has confused and confounded scholars, teachers and interpreters for
generations. There is no consensus regarding where it happened. There is no consensus
about what happened or why it happened. There are those that speculate that
this is a misplaced resurrection account. Of course, this is perfectly
understandable because none of the Gospel accounts really give us much
information. Much of it is left to speculation.
So … what do we think might have
been going on?
Jesus and the disciples had been in
and around Capernaum. While they were there, Jesus had asked them who the
people said that he was. They answered him, and then Jesus countered with,
“But, who do you say that I am?” It was then that Peter proclaimed that Jesus
was the Messiah, the Son of God.
Also, during their time in
Capernaum, Jesus informed the disciples that they were making the journey to
Jerusalem, and he told them what was going to happen to him once they got
there. Jesus told them that he would suffer and die. Naturally, that was
shocking and horrifying news. The disciples rejected the idea that that was
And as we heard this morning, six
days later, Jesus, Peter, James and John ascended to a certain mountain top.
Mount Hermon was the most likely location being that it was fourteen miles from
Capernaum, but we just do not know. And the reality is that is just does not
matter which mountain peak it was.
As Jesus prepared for this final
trip to Jerusalem, and the fate that awaited him, he likely went up to the
mountain top to pray. We know that he often withdrew to disserted places to
pray throughout his life. But this was not an ordinary occurrence. Something
extraordinary happened. In fact, extraordinary cannot adequately capture just
how far beyond ordinary this event truly was!
It is hard for us to begin to
comprehend what happened. It is so far beyond anything that we have experienced
in our own lives.
Let us begin with our assumption … Jesus
went up to the mountain top to pray. We know that Jesus was fully human and
fully divine. Was he troubled by the same doubts and insecurities? Was he
troubled about his journey to Jerusalem? Was he checking in with God to
determine if that truly was God’s will for him? Did he ask God if he was making
the correct decision? Was he wondering if he was following God’s will? Or was
he following his own? Was he wondering if the disciples were ready to carry on
the mission without him? Did they need more time?
In the midst of his prayer, Jesus
was transfigured. He glowed with pure, white light; his face shone like the
sun. And then he was joined by none other than Moses and Elijah! We do not hear
the content of their conversation. We can assume that they were not talking
about the weather or about the pitching staff for the Nazareth Red Sox. Moses …
the great law-giver, and Elijah … the great prophet met Jesus there on that
mountain top. If Jesus had been troubled by the path that was before him, Moses
and Elijah could reassure him. They could speak to his concerns. They could
encourage him. “Go forth. Go with God.”
Jesus was joined in that spectacular
moment by Moses and Elijah. They, like Jesus, were both rejected by the people
but vindicated by God. Both advocates of the covenant community. Both of whom
were transcendent figures in the lives of the Hebrew people. They may have had
some understanding of what troubled Jesus’ heart.
Like the disciples, we can only look
at the scene with our mouths hanging open. We can never know the content of
their conversation. Obviously, we were not meant to know. We are content to
simply bask in the glow and the glory. And again, our human words are
inadequate because the event gets even MORE extra ordinary!
A luminous cloud descended upon them.
Clouds atop Mount Hermon were nothing new. That happened all the time. But this
was a LUMINOUS cloud! The luminous cloud again defies description. It is
something of divine wonder! It was and had been the very Presence of the Glory
of God. It was the Shekinah. It was that which hovered over Mount Sinai when
Moses received the Law. It was that which led the people to freedom in the
And then a Voice from the cloud
spoke: “This is my Son, whom I love;
with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
same Voice that spoke at Jesus’ baptism spoke in that moment, and offered the
same message. “This is my Son, the Beloved.”
Peter said, “I knew it!! I told you so!!”
as we heard, he did NOT say that. They did not say anything. They fell to the
ground terrified! Overwhelmed with awe!!
we are here, let us consider what this whole thing must have been like for the
disciples. Of course, as I contemplate this I can never even wrap my head
around what it must have been like to travel around with Jesus in the first
place. I am filled with awe, and amazement, and wonder, and if I am honest …
just a bit of jealousy. To simply be in the presence of Jesus would be beyond
anything that I can imagine or articulate.
they had that incredible experience. And this happened. I suppose that if you
walk around with Jesus you expect the unexpected to happen. But this?! Wow.
WOW!!! Jesus, Moses and Elijah!! Together on that mountain top!! And then the
luminous cloud! They had heard about that holy cloud. They knew what it meant
to their people and their history and their heritage. And there it was …
descending upon them!
an absolutely indescribable event!! Peter did not know what to do. He offered
to build three booths, three tabernacles for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. We can
imagine impetuous Peter feeling the need to do something … anything. “Jesus! I
will build three shelters so we can live up here forever!”
then the Cloud spoke!! “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well
pleased. Listen to him!” They dropped to the ground terrified.
we sit here this morning, we are to do what they were to do … take it in. Be
still. Linger in … dwell in … the Presence of God. Do not DO anything. Just be
still. Contemplate the words of the psalm: “Be still and know that I am God.”
may be confusion and uncertainty regarding what happened that day on that
mountain top. But there are times when we need to suspend our need to know. We
need to accept that there are times when we cannot dissect the details and
determine the facts. There is one thing of which we can be certain. This is a
story about the awesomeness of God. This is a story of the power, glory and
beauty of God. It is a story about being overwhelmed by the very Presence of
God. Just in case we need to be reminded, just in case God sometimes gets lost
in the midst of the ordinary busyness and clutter of our days, this is a
Spirit and Glory of God that hovered above the chaos of Creation …
Spirit and Glory of God that led the people to freedom …
Spirit and Glory of God that spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai …
Spirit and Glory of God that descended upon Jesus when he was baptized …
Spirit and Glory of God that alighted upon the people during Pentecost …
is the same Spirit that fills this room this morning. It is the same Spirit
that moves among us and through us. It is the same Spirit that animates us, and
blesses us, comforts us, calls us and inspires us. It is the same Spirit that
leads us and speaks to us today and every day.
as we heard, that Spirit … That Voice … spoke to us that day. The Voice gave us
one word of instruction. That Divine Voice said, “Listen to him!”
to him when you are troubled.
to him when you are lost.
to him when you are uncertain.
to him and learn how to live.
to him and learn who to love.
to him. He offers you peace.
to him. He offers you everlasting joy.
is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.
Congregational ChurchUCC, SACO MAINE12 BEACH STREET | SACO, ME 04072207-283-3771