Mountaintop experiences; we’ve all had them: a graduation, wedding, birth of a child or grandchild, a special anniversary, retirement and a gold watch. These are moments that we want to hold onto, moments that we wish would last forever.
Peter, James and John had just such a mountaintop experience. One minute they were walking with Jesus just as they had always known him and the next “he was transfigured before them” “… I will make three tents …”
Peter wanted to capture the moment, to stay on the mountaintop. But mountaintop experiences are not meant to be held. Mountaintop experiences are openings, as it were, into new ways of being. Having graduated, the student now looks forward to beginning a new job. After the wedding the couple begins to build a marriage together. The birth of a baby brings with it the joy of watching a child grow. A special anniversary celebrates years past and anticipates happy years yet to come. And retirement from one’s life’s work brings with it the opportunity to develop new interests and ways of finding meaning in life.
In other words, for every mountaintop experience there is the corresponding experience of coming down from the mountain. What happens on the mountaintop is intended to prepare us for that experience.
Peter, James and John didn’t understand that Jesus was preparing them for his Passion, death and resurrection, even though just six days earlier he had tried to prepare them for what was to come. They didn’t understand any more than a couple preparing for marriage can understand all that marriage will entail or a woman who’s just given birth can understand the joy of raising a family. The good news is that, just as he did for Peter, James and John, Jesus promises to come back down from the mountaintop with us into all of those experiences.
It’s true; mountaintops can be great places to visit. But life isn’t lived on the mountaintop, and tents are temporary at best. In fact, when all is said and done, most of us would have to admit that we really wouldn’t want to stay there.
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister in the diocese.