For several weeks now I have been contemplating the moment and meaning of the Mount of Transfiguration. That may seem a little strange for the average Joe or Jill but the majority of my time is in some way spent either serving on behalf of Christ or contemplating my relationship with him. I am a Christ follower. My relationship with God means more to me than career, church or any other institution in my life. In fact, if one is a devotee of Judaism or Christianity such might be the case in their life, for both of these religions profess some rather remarkable and radical things.
This morning as I read in the book of Numbers, I was once more reminded of the holiness of God. Perhaps a word we should understand more of in today’s overly religious world. Yet, the scriptures draw a sharp contrast between today’s New Testament message of grace and the somewhat stern, demanding God of Moses. Many Christians believe that the 66 books of the Bible contain the entirety of the message of our faith. Some are a little more skeptical of the Canon and view it more as a history of the faith. Either way, there are some miraculous moments in both Old and New Testament. Need I mention the parting of the Red Sea, made so memorable by Charlton Heston, not to speak of the bodily resurrection of a man brutally crucified?
My contemplation of the Mount of Transfiguration seems to pivot more however on Elijah. Who was this man whose story was captured by the Hebrew Prophets, revered by Mohammed and now, appears with Jesus and Moses and witnessed by Peter, James and John? Of all the people that could have shown up that day on the Mount, Moses I get but Elijah? John the Baptist, whom many thought was Elijah reincarnate, had been recently beheaded by Herod, so why not John the Baptist instead of Elijah?
One may ask what merits have these thoughts, given that the Old Testament is out and the New is in, or is it. What benefit is contemplation of these cross-over moments within the Old and New Testament? To me, the scripture text is there for a reason beyond simple memorization or history. In fact, the text alone without revelation that comes through prayer, profits little. Contemplation of the Word is the fuel for true prayer.
If Moses and Elijah were selected to greet Jesus along with three devoted apostles on the mount, there must be a connection? As I pondered in prayer what seemed deep in my spirit, by that, I mean the struggle had gone from my head to my heart, it began to make sense.
What if God is in fact what the most extreme expression of the Old Testament implies, in terms of His desire to be counted holy and yes unapproachable by fallen mankind? What if all the bloodshed of the Old Testament and those tiring legalistic religious requirements were prescribed by God as the only acceptable means of engagement of fallen humanity? Was this God’s way of inspiring awe and thus attracting a primitive man-kind? I say primitive, but the Egyptian artifacts and engineering feats seem less primitive that the word implies.
Was the God of Moses, the same God of Elijah but now of necessity, weaning us from our familiarity with the Law, meant only as a school-master, preparing us for a demonstration of His love; and like a two sided mirror, both images so unlike the other, yet so impactful, we even struggle to this day with this gift of holiness described by the Law but now imparted so freely.
Yet, what if all along His plan was to demonstrate another face of Himself, as men grew in their knowledge of God? BTW, please pardon my gender usage, as it just comes more natural due to my background, though I know that this being is not a man. I assume the need for maleness was more an attempt to communicate with then existing cultural bias than a statement against the daughters of God, but what do I know!
So why Elijah, this man who shows up out of nowhere with King Ahab, when kingship had taken precedent over the priesthood, though never God’s intent. Why was he so abrasive and why when John the Baptist shows up, was he compared with Elijah, setting the priesthood on edge and only after the lineage of Hebrew Kings had long been destroyed, though Israel’s religion continued to be nurtured for thousands of years solely on the laws of God? His ways are perhaps higher than our ways.
Were Elijah and his contemporary John the Baptist necessary to tear us from the religious practice first used to demonstrate holiness and awe, needed only to prepare or worse yet frustrate the hearts of men who though practicing the law to the letter, were never able to attain true holiness? Then in a Bethlehem moment this same God would manifest himself as the Christ, providing the ultimate sacrifice that our religious practice had instilled as the only remedy from our pent up guilt: the death of Himself. Resurrected as assurance that death was not our end, this same God would be now fully represented, not only as holy and awesome but loving and just.
Perhaps our lack of understanding is now the source of our many religions, and thus they become more a distraction to God’s real intent, that being relationship?
Was the Mount of Transfiguration captured in such a way as to demonstrate the two extremes of our awareness of God, the God of Moses and the person of Jesus; standing Elijah in the middle for the sake of those unwilling to release the Law, getting past the awe and finally understanding the intimacy that is now ours through Christ?
His ways are not our ways!