,Summits … could it have been the Bible which gave us the link between mountain tops and ‘high level’ talks, getting away from it all so that the key players can finally get to the issues that really matter? Moses started it or, rather God started it by summoning him to Sinai. It was a pretty exclusive meeting – just the two of them. Maybe that’s how to get things done. Limit the numbers and do not allow any idle chatter. Then give yourself time as God gave Moses: forty days and no prospect of time out for eating. That ought to concentrate the mind wonderfully. Moses had thought he was going to enjoy the views, well tough; a climb of seven thousand feet or so is no picnic and then just as he gets to the top the cloud comes down. That’s the price you have to pay for a private audience with the Almighty. But what a cloud! It is not the fog of confusion that so often obscures our human discussions. It is the glory of God, a corona of white-hot holiness that burns words into stone and brands the soul! Moses leaves this summit with a clear mandate from God. God ahs ratified covenant between himself and his chosen people and has given Moses ten clear articles of law for the inspiration, instruction and despair of the world.
Sinai proved to be a popular venue despite the climb and the threat – or promise – of cloud. Elijah was a prophet and man of action who was keen to listen to God, to speak boldly and to obey quickly. He was the champion of Yahweh challenging all the Israelites who were worshipping pagan gods. Having shown that Yahweh is the only God, he faced threats of death from the king’s wife, Jezebel, and fled in fear for his own life. Then he was prey to burn-out (or as we might say, post-traumatic stress disorder). So he returned to the roots of his faith, to the mountain of Moses, the mountain of God. At that summit he talked with God, who this time answered not by fire or white glory but in the stillness which preceded vision and purpose reborn. So Elijah leaves his summit with God with the commission to go on renewing the call to observe the Law of Moses and to appoint a successor, who proves to be Elisha. In those ways Elijah is to make quite sure that humanity never forgets its impossible task. His reward, as we heard in our first reading, is to be taken up to heaven in a whirlwind apparently having not faced earthly death.
I bet that neither Moses of Elijah ever thought that they’d be recalled for yet another summit on another mountain many hundreds of years on. Of course neither distance nor time is any barrier when the Almighty summons. There are three of them at the summit this time, and three reporters, Peter, James and John, although they had to hold their copy.
Moses and Elijah; one is the pioneer and one is the defender of that first great covenant of God with his creation. The prophet Malachi had predicted that Elijah would return before the Messiah would come. Then there was the long pause of about five hundred years while the Old Testament rehearsed its welcome for the one who would bring in the New Testament, the third delegate to this summit conference, Jesus of Nazareth. I wonder what three of them spoke about – who knows? It would have been the greatest agenda ever …
For Moses it might have been about the law he had brought down from his previous summit. It was an enormous responsibility and he faced the impossibility of getting anyone to do what they are told for more than five minutes. Then there was the problem of the continuous cull of flocks and herds to provide for all the sacrifices. There is no doubt it was all great teaching, but you know what human nature is like: if this is the only way to the Promised Land, then none of us going to make it …
Elijah might have had similar concerns on the agenda. As a prophet his words, spoken in faith, had power to bring healing, fire and drought. Yet his words could not jolt the people out of sin. It seems that our rebellious race needs more than words from other human beings or more than regular reminders of essential holiness even when such words and reminders are directly inspired by God. What it seems we need is more like a remake, from the inside out …
Finally at this summit there was Jesus, the Son of God, who know now that he was the only one who could truly live by the old covenant – the law and the prophets. Then by his death, his resurrection and his ascension he would give it a bold new face: the law would be superseded by grace.
What about the mountain that had seen so much? It must have trembled with the thrill of it all. Once more the cloud of the glory of God comes down on to it. Then God affirms what Jesus already knows. God says “See in my son the light of my glory, my image – listen to him”.
So Jesus leaves this summit affirmed in his place in the great scheme of things. He knows that he is the fulcrum of history; that his cross is the hinge between time and eternity. His immediate future is one any human being, himself included, would want to avoid, but he knows that the love of his Father will see him through.
So there we have the three key players who fulfil the purposes of God. In many ways they are three of a kind. Each has no known burial place. We do not know the place of Moses burial if it ever took place. We only know that God took him up to another high mountain to see the Promised Land and that Moses died there. The bible tells us that no one knows his burial place to this day. Elijah and Jesus are both, in different ways, caught up directly into heaven. All three have their own successors. Moses was succeeded by Joshua and Elijah was succeeded by Elisha. Both Joshua and Elisha crossed the river Jordan on dry ground through the miraculous intervention of God. Jesus crossed the river of death and returns victorious to leave us his successor, the Holy Spirit.
I suspect we will have no more summits like the transfiguration. Thanks to the Holy Spirit we have the voice of God with us and within us so we do not need summits now. However that day will come when every eye shall see him, when his feet will once again stand upon the summit of a mountain to judge and to rule.
Until that great day, we face the fact that just as the people rejected Elijah so we often in our daily lives reject Jesus often without even realising it. Jesus gave us his grace because he knew that we cannot live as God want us to simply by following the Law of Moses. It is just too hard for us. However, Jesus’ grace is constant so we always have the hope of forgiveness. His mercy is ready and waiting for us. As we approach Lent let’s recommit ourselves to Jesus by climbing to summit of our faith in sorrow and regret praying that at Easter we will greet our risen Lord with gratitude and wholeheartedness.