Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves.

Led them up a high mountain apart…

Mountains, high places have always seemed special places, even holy places.

Ireland has such a place, a holy mountain. Several years ago, I visited Ireland with my nephew. It was a several days visit – by bus – which is a good way to get a feel for a country. Between towns we would sometimes stop for lunch at a pub.  Usually there would be a place where notices of events, happenings, would be posted. Several times I noticed postings of walks – pilgrimages – on a particular mountain. Not surprisingly, this being Ireland, that the mountain was named for St. Patrick. Churches seemed to be sponsors of many of these types of events.

On one of our last nights in Ireland, in Galway, we stopped by a bookstore that was still open in the evening. I was looking for something to read on the long flight back home.

And then I found it – “Going up the Holy Mountain.” And on the front a black and white photo of a bare mountain with a trail leading to the top. Rocky, bereft of green – much like the art on our service booklet this morning – which is a 15th century Ukrainian icon of the Transfiguration. Jesus, Moses and Elijah, each on their own peak with Peter, James and John cowering belong them – maybe in wonderment – most likely in terror.

It is not a warm and fuzzy picture. The Transfiguration is something many of us are unsure about. We are more comfortable, maybe, with Jesus the teacher, the therapeutic personification of “being nice” to an age that is uncomfortable with sharp words, disagreement…and certainty.

And on that flight home from Ireland – 40,000 feet up in the atmosphere – I read “Going up on the Holy Mountain.” The author Gary Hastings, an Irish Anglican priest wrote his book to be a spiritual guidebook – certainly for those going on pilgrimage on the Holy Mountain in Ireland – but also “pilgrimage” in any of the many forms it might take – even while flying 40,000 feet in the air, I suppose.

He describes it sort of like when “when you go up a mountain with spiritual intent, with all your senses opened and quietened, then it’s like walking up into the sky and being suspended for a time between heaven and earth…” Possibly a “thinner place” as Gary Hastings would describe it, “…where one world seems nearer to another, where reality is stretched a bit, the envelope of our perceptions pushed out a bit more.”

Which maybe could approach Peter, James and John’s feelings on that day.

So how do we respond?

Maybe the collect can give us an idea: “…Grant to us that we beholding by faith the light of his countenance…” in other words, we, too, are on that mountaintop, we are there seeing him– “by faith” – so that we, too, may be inspired – “strengthened” – to live our lives – “bear our cross” – so we, too, in own our last days –be changed into his likeness from glory to glory …”

And the collect began, “O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the Holy Mountain…” Grant to us that we…”

In other words, this is our prayer to God – our request.

That our lives as children of God, as Christians is a journey – is a pilgrimage. A journey and a pilgrimage of purpose and meaning.

Hastings talks about meaning [Page 70, “Going up the Holy Mountain]: “Meaning is the internal chamber, the radical wellspring where religion, spirituality, art, music, literature, creativity all resonate. We are not human without these things.  We are not calm, dispassionate observers, we are participants, causations, effects, victims, winners and losers, we act and are acted upon. Even as spectators, we are affected. We are part of it, and want to know what it’s all about, and who or what is to blame…”

Today is sort of a “sneak peek” at the Transfiguration. As someone has pointed out the “real” celebration – Transfiguration Sunday –  comes later in the year – in August. After we have passed through Lent, Holy Week, the Sunday of our Lord’s Resurrection and Victory over death. Maybe it is enough for us this morning to just get a glimpse of him – to see him clothed in white – luminous – glorious – a hint maybe of what it will be like for us…And maybe that’s the point: we are there. It is a mystery, a great mystery – but it is still one that is difficult to understand, even to describe, to come to grips with.

Maybe that is what a lifetime is for.

So, as we mull that over let’s think about three words:

Morality or right living, Prayer or our communication with God, and the ongoing Pilgrimage of our own life.

The first word is morality. Certainly, our lives are affected by rules, regulations, customs, traditions, habits, “this is the way we have always done it…”

But it is more – or maybe goes deeper. Again as Fr. Hastings would describe it, “It’s more a matter of love, care, compassion and attention more than ‘not doing stuff.’” How do we live with each other, how do live with God…how do we live with ourself?

How do we communicate with God? Do we? How do we pray?

One of those we recently elected to be on our church Vestry in her brief biography shared that the “Jesus Prayer” was important to her. It is very short – very simple – “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner…”

In my life I have benefitted greatly from the work and dedication of countless doctors and nurses – and the great advances of modern medicine. And it is this prayer I have prayed as I was wheeled into the operating room.

We pray together. We will pray together several times together this morning. We use our own words or we pray prayers that have been written. Someone who comes from a tradition that frowns on “canned” prayers as not sufficiently genuine told me one time that when the preacher would call on a certain person in the congregation to pray that that man’s prayer would always be almost word for word the same as the last prayer he had prayed. Maybe the great words of saints past can and do become our own words.

We pray David’s prayers from the Psalter. Daily prayer is a major part of the Anglican tradition.

We pray for others. Does it make a difference for those for whom we pray? As Gary Hastings says that is God’s business. But prayer can change us. “When we pray deeply and sincerely for someone, we know we are taking that person and their situation deep into ourselves. We are allowing them and their pain to become a part of our awareness, we are giving it attention, and attention is the backbone of love.”

Sometimes it seems that we live in particularly dark times of hate, evil and war. This notwithstanding the great material blessings of many, the distractions of entertainment and technology.

Yet even in these times – more especially because of the times in which we live – God calls us to live our life as a journey, as a pilgrimage for Him.

I pray that our life together here at St. Luke’s is an important part of that journey, that pilgrimage.

We will offer a Lenten study beginning shortly led by Fr. Carey and myself. There are opportunities for spiritual growth in our service, in our great music and in our Wednesday healing service, our centering prayer group, our Thursday evening programs led by Mark Holtz. Our Monday evening study group and our monthly Saturday morning breakfasts…

We have shared this morning with the apostles Peter, James and John the hopeful glimpse of our Savior in all his glory, radiance and light.

Let us close with some words from Paul’s letter to Phillippi:

The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.


Richard Robertson

“Going up the Holy Mountain,” by Gary Hastings, The Columba Press, Dublin, 2015