The Final Mountain

The Final Mountain

Second Sunday of Lent. fr Bruno reflects on the significance of mountains in Scripture.Have you noticed how many events in the Bible happen on mountains?  Mount Moriah; Sinai or Horeb; Galilee; the Temple Mount in Jerusalem… Golgotha.

There are events of passion: the sacrifice of Isaac (Gn. 22) and the crucifixion.

There are events of revelation: the giving of the Law, the Ten Commandments (Ex. 19-20) and the Transfiguration.

Events of teaching: the statutes of the covenant (Ex 21-23) and the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7)

– and all are an encounter with God.

Elijah the prophet too, who reveals the face of God to the people, encounters a presence of God on Mt Horeb as he is fleeing Israel.  ‘Even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away…’ (1 Kgs 19:10.14)

The idea is that mountains show forth the proximity of God and his holiness.  At the giving of the Law at Sinai the people were forbidden to touch the mountain ‘lest they die’ it was so holy.

So Jesus takes Peter and James and John up the mountain.  They are returning from Caesarea Philippi, a beautiful, green country and moving south to the desert, to Jerusalem and death.  They are returning from the scene between Peter and Jesus.

‘You are the Christ,’ Peter had said, ‘but you shall not be crucified’: he began to rebuke Jesus.

‘Get behind me Satan’ (Mark 8:33)

Jesus will not be deterred; he turns towards his glory and lifting up upon the cross.

So, it is on this journey towards death that these chosen apostles follow their Lord up the ‘high mountain’.  And he was transfigured…

No longer the burning bush: no more hiding the face until the backside of God passes by.

No longer the cloud and fire that destroys.  No longer a still small voice or ambiguous call.

Moses and Elijah see the glory of God shining from the face of Jesus… and they were talking with him: the Law and the Prophets converse with their Lord face to face.

For the apostles, the veil of glory is pulled back. No wonder Peter did not know what to say. The divine experiences of Moses and Elijah are brought to bear upon the apostles’ experience of Jesus – and our experience too, who also do not know what to say.

But we have not considered yet what mountain top event is set along side the transfiguration.

At the beginning of God’s relationship with Israel he asks for Isaac, the child of the promise, progenitor of the great nation of Abraham’s descendants.

God asks for his life … in the wilderness, on the mountain of Moriah.

Moses and Elijah talk with Jesus, the Law and the Prophets, not Abraham, not Isaac.  Why do we look to this sacrifice of our father in faith for a sense of Jesus’s revelation on this high mountain?

Isaac, the Son of the promise, has the wood laid on his shoulder and climbs the mount at the will of his Father.

‘And Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘Here are the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’  Abraham said, ‘God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’ (Gen 22:7-8)

The real glory of Jesus is up on the mountain of passion – his Passion and Death on Golgotha.

‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.’ (John 12:32)

The veil of glory, momentarily pulled back on the mountain of the transfiguration, is torn in two from top to bottom by the cross – the end of the journey Jesus is now making, the last mountain to climb.

The light of God’s ineffable love for us shines out from the cross of Christ, the light that Moses, Elijah and Abraham began to see, but only from their vantage point on the top of the mountain.

The mountain top revelation to a chosen few has become the sign lifted up from the earth for all men to see and be drawn to.

As Jesus taught from another mountain by Galilee: ‘think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them.’ (Matt 5:17)

Readings: Genesis 22:1-2,9-13,15-18 | Romans 8:31-34 | Mark 9:2-10

fr Bruno is Vice-Regent of Blackfriars Hall and Studium, Oxford, where he teaches Biblical Studies.