He was a wanderer in the forest; he was someone you might see across a crowded room sitting alone in a corner. He looked a bit ragged; he looked as though he had been sleeping outside for years. You journeyed with him and discovered bits and pieces about him: he knew the land profoundly, he could help you avoid all kinds of little and big dangers that lurked in corners, fought like a madman when forced to. He was wise, he was patient, he was a loyal friend. He had a family tree that went back forever, at least that’s what you discovered when you got to the house of Elrond. His name was Aragorn.
A part of the Lord of the Rings I find compelling is how we uncover Aragorn through the story. He is always more than he appears to be, there are always glimpses of his full identity, and it isn’t until the end of the story is when the full picture emerges. Part of the reason for this is his perseverance. When times are cloudy, when times are bad, he keeps going forward with a faith in the future that is almost beyond belief. In the end his faith is rewarded.
Peter, James and John traveled with Jesus a while. They had gone through some rough times, quite probably, going from town to town in Galilee. There were dangers on the road in those days, even for a group of people traveling around, and there were probably times when they were hungry or wet or cold. They had seen many things with Jesus, heard stories that were unlike any they had heard before, seen things that were incredible, had glimpses of what he was. Jesus and his followers go up to the mountain, and the disciples fall into a kind of vision. They get a glimpse of what Jesus is on the mountain top: a person in dazzling white. They see Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah, who represent the two great hinges of Jewish tradition: the Law and the Prophets. The are engulfed by a cloud and hear a voice from heaven: This is my beloved Son, hear him. They might had through they were at the end of the journey; this was where they had been bound for and this is where their happy ending was going to be.
So Peter suggests that they set up booths to commemorate the spot. The festival of booths is an important festival in the autumn for the Jewish people, they set up special tents to connect themselves with their past as nomads and the experience of God in the desert. It’s all coming together: Moses encountered God on a mountain, Elijah encountered God on a mountain, and now they’ve had the third experience. This is holy ground; this is where they ought to stay.
But no, this isn’t the end of the journey. The happy ending isn’t about finding a single spot in the wilderness where they can create a new reality. There’s more to happen. They have to come down off the mountain.
They have to go back to real life, and it’s something that’s not easy. Jesus had said that he was going to die in Jerusalem. Everything is not going to be easy from now on. Peter and James and John had an experience that they couldn’t share for a while, not until after the Resurrection could they talk about it and work out its significance. It was after they had the whole story that their journey made sense.
We’ve encountered Jesus in many ways, we come here today to encounter Jesus. In this place, we’re on the mountain top with the figure in white, we hear the voice from the cloud. We know the story that happened after, about Jesus’ brutal death and his resurrection. We have to live after we come down from the mountain, and we cannot be the same.
Christ has bound us as God bound Abram in the desert. Abram became Abraham as a result of his covenant with God in the first reading. As we go through our lives, how are we different in this Lent as we unpack our relationship with Jesus, as we reflect on what we’ve seen and what we’ve heard?
We all have different ways we respond, but we are not the same as individuals or as a people. God is not finished with us; we are not at the end of the story, no matter how often we may feel like we’re at the end of hope, the end of possibility, how often we find ourselves wandering alone in the wilderness. Through Christ we continually discover the great love our God has for us, and how we can be changed.