A Mountaintop Experience
by the Rev. David Rienstra,
minister of the Swedenborgian Church in St. Louis
In the September, 1996 Issue of Our Daily Bread
Did you ever hear the name Peter Cartwright? A century and a half ago, Peter Cartwright was a preacher on the American frontier. The story is told of a conversation he once had with a medical doctor. The doctor asked Cartwright, "Did you ever actually see God?" Cartwright answered, "No."
"Did you ever hear God?...smell Him?...Taste Him?" "No," said Cartwright.
"Did you ever feel Him." "Yes, that I have," replied Cartwright.
"Well," said the doctor, "we still have four strong witnesses against one that there is no such thing as God."
Cartwright quickly countered, "Have you ever seen pain - pain itself?" "No," said the doctor.
"Have you ever heard pain?...smelled it?...Have you tasted it?" "No," were the responses.
"Have you ever felt pain?" "Of course," said the doctor
"See," Cartwright explained, "we have four strong witnesses out of five that pain does not exist!"
With Peter Cartwright and the writer of the Book of Hebrews, we can affirm, "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." (Hebrews 10:39-11:1)
Today I have chosen a lesson that usually comes before the beginning of Lent - the story of the Transfiguration. This is one of those lessons that can lift the spirits, because it is about a mountaintop experience.
We all need occasional mountaintop experiences. There is enough in the Scriptures to inform us of our weaknesses which we need, but it's nice also to hear a lesson that appeals to our good affections.
In his book Sermon in Stone, Mel Ellis tells of a geography class whose students had taken a tour of the earth "by book." At the end of the semester they were asked to list what they considered the seven wonders of the world. The top picks as we might guess, included Egypt's Great Pyramid, the Taj Mahal, the Grand Canyon, the Panama Canal, the Empire State Building, Saint Peter's Basilica, and China's Great Wall.
While tallying the votes, the teacher noticed that one little girl had not turned in a paper. She approached the student and asked if she was having a problem with her list. The girl responded, "Yes, a little. I couldn't make up my mind because there were so many." The teacher replied, "Well, tell us what you have, and maybe we can help." Reluctantly, the little girl stood up and began to read her paper. "I think the seven wonders of the world are to touch and to taste, to see and to hear, and then to run and to laugh and to love."
Now that is a mountaintop story. it may not have much to do with geography, but it is one that appeals to the affections. When you stop to think about it, we perhaps could not compile a better list ourselves of the seven wonders of the world.
In our Scripture lesson, Jesus took three of his disciples up on a high mountain, and there they were given to see Jesus as He is recognized in the heavens. A short time before Jesus took Peter, James and John to that mountain, He had asked His disciples a question: "Who do people say that I am?" The disciples no doubt mingled about in the crowds, especially when Jesus was preaching, teaching, and healing, and they were probably pretty impressed by some of the comments. The disciples answered: "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." Many of the people were hoping for and looking for the coming of the Messiah. Because of his wonderful ways, Jesus at best was perhaps one of the prophets returned to keep their hopes alive.
But then Jesus directed a question right at the disciples: "But who do you say that I am?"
It was Peter who answered. He said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Matthew writes that Jesus responded, "And you are Peter, and on this rock I will building my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it..."
In the spiritual sense of the Word it was not Peter the man, but the statement of truth that Peter proclaimed, that the Lord indicated was the foundation on which the Lord's church is established in every person. Swedenborg tells us that the Word is read in the heavens, but when the angels come upon the name Peter, they do not even think of Peter the man, but the life of faith which Peter represents. It is this same quality of faith that becomes a means for each and every one of us to recognize the true nature of Jesus Christ in our lives.
It is from this recognition that we too can be led up to the mount of transfiguration. But notice, it is not just our belief, our faith, that is led up the mountain. With Peter Jesus took two other disciples who were close to Him. It was Peter, James, and John who had the privilege of actually seeing the Lord as He is seen in the heavens. From the correspondences, Peter is a symbol of our faith life which is from the understanding. John is a symbol for our loves and affections for what is good and true. James symbolizes our good actions and charity that are the result of faith and love. And isn't it so that the way we build and establish our eternal relationship with the Lord, is through our good desires, good thoughts, and life's actions?
What a wonderful experience! It says that on the mount, Jesus' face did shine as the sun. And that his garments were glistening white. Those are but symbols describing the intensity of the Lord's love and wisdom meant for us to see and experience.
From this vision we discover the important of all the Scripture, for even as the Lord was seen talking with Moses and Elijah, He reveals His nature through the word of Moses and the prophets. But most important, our connection to spiritual life and the heaven within is through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Notice that when Peter said, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us build three tabernacles..." a cloud overshadowed them and from the cloud a voice, "This is my beloved Son. Hear Him!"
If in our hearts, and in our minds and in our life's actions there is a strong bond and connection with the Lord, we will certainly discover that in all of the joys, and yes, in even the heartaches and trials of this life, there will be a deepening and growing sense of peace.
Swedenborg has said that our knowledge and acknowledgement of the Lord is like the first link on a chain. It is the most important one, for if the first link is strong the rest of the chain of events in life will be strengthened and reinforced by the most important link of all.
Let us look at just one more aspect of this lesson. It sounds as if the disciples would have liked to remain in that state on the mountain, just as we would often like to remember our own mountaintops rather than return to the valleys of life. It sounds very appealing, but that is not what a mountaintop experience is for. The mountain top is for renewal. It is for contemplation and thought. Sometimes it is just to experience some good feelings. But we all must come back down. Our real life and journey is not on the mountain but in our everyday relationships - our workplace, our home, our leisure activities. This is where we get to act upon what we have learned on the mountain.
And He said to them, "Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power."
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud, there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
As they were coming down from the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. Then they asked him, "Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" He said to them, "Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How there is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him."
Reading from Swedenborg:
The Lord took Peter, James, and John, because by them the church in respect to faith, charity, and the works of charity was represented; He took them "into a high mountain," because "mountain" signifies heaven; "His face did shine as the sun, " because "face" signifies the interiors, and it did shine as the sun because His interiors were Divine, for the "sun" is Divine love; "His garments became white as the light," because "garments" signify Divine truth proceeding from Him; the like is signified by "light." "Moses and Elijah" appeared, because the two signify the Word, "Moses" the historical Word, and Elijah" the prophetical Word; " a bright cloud" signifies the Word in the letter within which is the internal sense; "a voice out of the cloud said, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear ye Him," because "a voice out of the cloud" signifies Divine truth out of the Word, and "beloved Son," the Lord's Divine Human. And because Divine truth is from Him, and thence all truth of the church, it was said out of the cloud, "in whom I am well pleased, hear ye Him." It was plainly the Divine Human of the Lord that was thus seen, for the Divine Itself cannot be seen by any one, except through the Divine Human.
Apocalypse Explained #64
Graphic of Jesus by:
Music: The Prism (Colors of
© 1999 Bruce De Boer