As most of you are aware, Maureen, the girls and I spent last weekend in Jamaica to attend our nephew Sam’s wedding. Now I know many of you are thinking, “what a rough life, a destination wedding in the middle of February.” To some degree, you have a right to think that. But before you get too far in your thoughts imagining Maureen and me relaxing by the water with a pina colada in each hand, the truth is, we had a very different Jamaican experience from what most Americans experience on the north shores of this beautiful Island country.
What we had was an organic Jamaican experience, Sam’s wife, Peta is from Portmore, Jamaica, a suburb of Kingston. Instead of staying at a resort, we stayed with Sam’s family in an Air BNB in the Red Hills of St. Andrew’s parish. Instead of riding in hotel shuttles and limousines, we rented a car and navigated the streets of Kingston often wondering if we would survive each trip as we drove on the opposite side of road dodging Jamaican drivers who believe stop signs et al were to be used at the driver’s discretion.
Over all what we experienced while Jamaica were the dusty, pot hole infested streets of Kingston, that meander to and fro through the city never seeming to lead any where and were congested with car and foot traffic most of the day and well into the night. By the end of our first day, I was glad our Air BNB was located high in the hills of St Andrew’s parish. From the vantage point of our balcony 3 to 400 feet above the city, we could appreciate the beauty of Kingston as it flowed from the mountains to its east to the waters’ edge at the bay to the west..
That’s the advantage of having a vantage point high above. It often helps you see the big picture and can clarity what you are experiencing in the moment. This is why we often find Jesus going off to pray in secluded areas whether it be by the water’s edge, in the vast isolation of the desert or as we find him today, with the disciples, high a top Mount Tabor.
To fully appreciate this morning’s passage, we really have to place the Transfiguration in the context of the greater story. If we were to read the Gospel in chronological order, we would find it was not much before this incredible day when Jesus was in the valley with the disciples asking them who they understood him to be. As we all remember, despite having spent a great amount of time with Jesus, the disciples still were not exactly clear as to who Jesus was and is. Reflecting what others had said, some had claimed he was perhaps a prophet or the reincarnation of John the Baptist. Not until Peter declared him the messiah did Jesus bring the conversation to an end. But the conversation didn’t really end there, Jesus then moves the conversation from who he is to where they were headed. This is when we discover Peter really did not fully grasp what it meant to be the messiah.
Towards the end of First Corinthians 13, Paul states that we look into a mirror dimly lit as he describes how we, even as a people of God, see and comprehend the Godhead. It is not until we find ourselves on the other side of the grave that we will ever see or understand God fully. The same is true for the disciples, as Jesus’ earlier conversation proved, they all had an idea as to who Jesus was but they really were not clear. It wasn’t until Jesus brought Peter, James and John to the top of Mount Tabor and fully revealed to them who he was that they understood. Now they had the big picture and were awed by what they came to know. In fact, they were so overwhelmed by what they saw, Peter wanted to set up camp and stay right where he was on top of that mountain for as long as they could.
Sadly, you cannot live on top of a mountain where no trees or vegetation can survive. Last week after Maureen and I endured the harrowing drive to get to where we were staying neither of us wanted to drive into Kingston again. For the five days we were there, our friend Gene drove our car everywhere we needed to go. But come Tuesday morning, there was no choice but for one of us to drive the car back through Kingston to the Airport some 26 kilometers away. Despite our fears, we knew we could not stay on the mountain for ever. So early Tuesday morning we tuned into google maps, we sucked it up, or I should say Maureen did, and we descended the mountain on our own as we began our journey back to Rhode Island.
The disciples had to do the same. No matter how badly they may have wished to stay in the presence of the Transfiguration, no matter how much they may have feared what the future held for them, they too had to suck it up and face the journey with Christ to the cross. They had to return to the valley below and the darkness that is so much a part of human life.
Seeing clearly from above is easy, being able to see in the valley below, at times, is almost impossible. It is however in the valleys where we spend most of our lives, immersed in the micro or small picture unable to see, as some would say,” the forest for the trees.” And it is here where we most often need to find Jesus in order to sustain our walk with him. The disciples literally had the physical Jesus with them as they descended down the mountain and to the cross. But we don’t. We are literally challenged with the daily job of finding Jesus in the minutia of our daily lives, both when we find ourselves on one of the pinnacles of life and in the nadir of our despair.
One of the many blessings of my time in Jamaica was the opportunity to work with a man simply known as Uncle Mike. Like Maureen and me, Mike and his wife Darleen were among the unrelated family of the bride and groom. Mike is an elder at the Long family’s church where Petaann grew up. For many years he was her Sunday school teacher. The Portmore Gospel Church is a non-liturgical church. Like many of the nondenominational churches here in the United States, these churches come with the challenge to preach and pray as the Holy Spirit guides them in the moment. In other words, no notes allowed. At the end of our meeting with the bride and groom on Friday, at the end the rehearsal on Saturday and in the midst of the wedding, I would often look to Uncle Mike for prayer. When Mike prayed you knew the Holy Spirit was with him. Unless I asked, his prayer contained very little in the way of petition, but a lot in terms of praise and thanksgiving. In every prayer Mike offered, he always thanked God for the myriad of little ways God had blessed them in the moment and then proclaimed how God had been present in our day and in our lives. Uncle Mike is a man who has spent time on the mountain top and has seen through the mirror dimly lit, he is also a man who has returned to the valley below and now sees God in the darkest and lowest of places.
This week we are being called to come off the mountain, to join with Jesus and the disciples on their walk to Jerusalem and to the cross. None of us wants to go there, but this is where life is lived and it here we must go. The good news is, we do not make this journey alone, God is with us and no matter how dark the journey may become, hope of resurrection lays just beyond the darkness of the tomb.