On 20 July 1969, Buzz Aldrin became the second human being to set foot on the moon. Shortly after the lunar-lander had touched down he requested radio silence and asked everyone that was listening around the world to contemplate the events of the last few hours. In the silence Aldrin opened a small package containing the reserved sacrament and a flask of wine. He poured out the wine and in the moon’s gravity it gracefully curled up to the rim of the cup. Then, in the silence of the Sea of Tranquility, Aldrin received Holy Communion and gave thanks to God. Aldrin has spoken and written about his experiences and lack of tranquility after returning to planet Earth: his struggles with the demons of alcoholism, marriage breakdown and depression, on his long journey home from the moon. After all, what else is there amongst the trivia of daily-life after one has been to the mountain top?
We hear the story of the Transfiguration (Luke 9.28-36) at the junction between the Seasons of Epiphany and Lent and it offers from the mountain top, a glimpse of the coming Easter dawn. The Transfiguration story is dramatically staged on a mountain peak, lit with a bright, almost blinding light. Jesus takes his most intimate disciples up to Mount Tabor and leads them to the sacred history of their faith. He shows them the shared memory of God’s presence in their lives and they see the face of God, as their eyes are opened to see the sacred light radiating from Jesus’ face so that he shone like the sun, and his clothing became dazzling white. Whilst all the time he was in the presence of Moses the liberator and Elijah the great prophet. However, the story encourages followers of Jesus to travel back down the mountain into the isolation of a desert place, where we are called to witness to God’s faithfulness and justice in a broken and uncertain world.
The Transfiguration is a story that invites us to consider one of the central questions of our faith: Who is Jesus? Who is this figure who shines so brightly on the mountain top, and what does it mean to be one of his followers? Jesus is the one who in his death and resurrection accomplishes the exodus for all people, from fear of God, to love of God, and from limited potential to eternal possibility.
Who is Jesus, who is this figure who shines so brightly? Perhaps part of the purpose of the wilderness journey of Lent, is for you to take the time to answer that question for yourself.