Our two texts tell us that two prophets in two different times on two different mountains in two different ways encounter the revelation of One Holy God.
In Exodus, Moses steps into The Cloud which covered Mt. Sinai. For six days the glory of God settled on Sinai. There on the mountaintop, Moses receives the Word of God for the people of the Hebrews. What appeared to be a raging fire to the people below the mountaintop was no less than the Glory of God! Through the Glory of God, in The Cloud, on the Mountain, the Lord revealed all the commandments, the rubrics of religion, and the faithful teachings Moses would need to lead the people of the Hebrews to the promised land and begin the reign of God in the land of Palestine.
Jewish midrash says of the Revelation of God's Torah (God's Word):
The Torah was given in fire (Exodus 19:18) And Mt. Sinai was wrapped in smoke . . . The Torah was given in water (Judges 5:4) and there upon the mountain, the clouds dropped water . . . The Torah was given in wilderness (Numbers 1:1), And the Eternal One spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai . . . Why? These three (Fire, Water, Wilderness) are a gift to all who live, and the Torah is a gift, as it is said (Isaiah 55:1), Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, and the one who has no money, come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost! (Rabbi Chaim Stern, Day-by-Day, p. 116).
No less than "Fire, water, and wilderness" were what Moses would be charged by God to reveal. Communicating God's Glory from mountaintop to valley is unenviable task. Mark Twain was later to synthesize the Word of God in these two sentences: "Always do right. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest." If only Twain and not Joshua had accompanied Moses, perhaps things would have come out differently.
Peter tells us of the second revelation on the mountaintop in his second letter: "You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts." (II Peter 1:19b). You see, the second revelation was not textual but spiritual. It was not about words on tablets but about The Word of God Becoming Flesh and dwelling among us. The second revelation on the mountaintop was the transformation of prophet and teacher into the Pure Light of God!
Matthew tells us that on another high and holy mountain, Peter, James, John, and Jesus were changed. In a moment, in a flash of light, Jesus was transfigured - changed from the inside out, right before the eyes of the disciples. As he was changed from the inside out, they were changed from the inside out as well. Sunlight poured from Jesus' face. His clothes were filled with light. There on that mountaintop, completely enveloped by The Cloud of Knowing, Moses and Elijah came down upon the mountain to enter into deep conversation with Jesus. As this happened Peter felt it would be a good idea to build a shrine there by which to remember this moment. In the midst of Peter's babble, God spoke. From the all-embracing Cloud, God said, "This is my Son, marked by my love, focus on my delight. Listen to him." There would be no more talk of huts, God had spoken. Men were silent! Terrified by the overwhelming presence of God, Jesus calmed them, lifted them to their feet, guided them down the mountain and swore them to secrecy until the day he rose from the dead.
Two texts, two mountains, two prophets, two revelations, One Holy and Mysterious God. I have said before (and I will say again) that I love these texts because they hold in tension that "thin place" between heaven and earth. God's calling to each of us is that experience the thin space of holy revelation in our lives! While some of us experience God's bridging heaven and earth on high and holy mountains, others of us discover God in the valleys below. Some of us by the ocean side. Some by the lakeside. Some in forest green. Some, in the still small voice of God revealed in prayer. Some, here in this holy place. Some in science. Some in art and poetry. Some in the rocking and the lullabies of babies in arms. Some in the breaking of bread and the communion of the saints. Some in the pouring of baptismal water and the unity of the Holy Spirit. Some in the Torah. Some in the Cross. Some in prayer and the solitude and silence of the human heart.
Albert Einstein once wrote: "The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. One who knows it not, who can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed out candle." ( Ibid., p.45).
The mystery of God and God's revelation in Word (to Moses on the mountain) and in Flesh (as the transfigured Christ on the mountain) is a constant reminder and call to each us to be open to God's amazing grace and presence in our daily lives. Morris West reminds us that this is not always (if ever) a harmonious experience, but it is always "of God."
West writes, "Wherever I turn . . . I am confronted with mystery. I believe in the Godly harmony which is the result of the eternal creative act . . . But, I do not always hear the harmony. I must wrestle with the cacophony and apparent discord of the score, knowing that I shall not hear the grand resolution until the day I die and, hopefully, am united with God . . . " ( Ibid., p. 48).
On two high and holy mountains, in two times, in two places, with two prophets, One Light from One Cloud of Knowing as One God revealed truth in the Written Word and then, in the Incarnate Word. In the thin spaces of your life, may God reveal the Risen Christ to you. Feel free to share his transformative and transfigurative Good News with those around you.
In the mystery and majesty of thin spaces, may we join our hearts and voices to praise God. "Immortal, Invisible, God only wise, In Light, Inaccessible, hid from our eyes, all blessed, all glorious, the ancient of days, almighty, victorious, thy Great Name we Praise." Amen.
Copyright 2005, The First Congregational Church