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The Silence Between the Words -- Mark 9:2-9 (Transfiguration Sunday)

For the past few weeks, we have travelled through the season of Epiphany with the theme, “The Words We Say.” In the rhythm of our life together, the season of Advent fills us with anticipation for the experience of Christmas – the birth of Christ – as the Word becomes flesh and dwells in the midst of us. Christmas flows into the season of Epiphany – “epiphany,” a word that comes from the Greek root meaning “to make manifest.” So we’ve spent time together, in this season, thinking of how the words we say – about God and about our life together with God – become manifest in the lives we lead.

Transfiguration brings us to the place where the words run out. In the flashes of light, in the shadow of a numinous cloud, with the sky opened up and a voice from heaven saying, “Listen!” – the disciples stand there on this mountain with Jesus, and they have absolutely no idea what to say. There are not words enough.

Transfiguration reminds us that all the words we say about God and about Jesus are provisional and incomplete. Each word gives us a glimpse. It may last, but a moment. It may warm and light our lives for a season. Or forever. But each word – each glimmer – each glimpse is but a fraction of the truth of God – a truth, the whole of which, is so much larger than our hearts and minds can ever fully grasp. It’s why we need each other. Each of us brings a Word, and we try to make sense of them together. It’s why we travel together over time – as each new day brings a new word – the promise of new meaning that brings new life.

Transfiguration brings us to the place where the words run out, and invites us into the holy experience of silence. The silence between the words. The place where we meet God in ways that words simply cannot express.

On this mountaintop of transfiguration – midway through the Gospel of Mark – Peter, James, and John find themselves in the place where words run out.[1] Now, we should note that even before they get to the top of the mountain, as they start their climb, they are already bewildered. They’ve just had that experience with Jesus that you may remember: Jesus asks them who others say he is – they report, “Some say Elijah; some say one of the other prophets.” And then Jesus says, “Who do you say I am?” And Peter responds, “You are the Christ.”

Then Jesus speaks plainly, telling them that the Son of Man – the Human One – will be brought before the chief priests and the elders and the teachers of the law – and he will be killed – and after three days rise again from death. And Peter, says, “No, no, that’s not what I meant – not that Christ.” And Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me Satan, you do not have in mind the things of God. The one who follows me must take up their cross.” Words that convey bewildering truth.

And after six days, Jesus takes them up this mountain. And there, Jesus is transfigured – transformed in appearance – his clothes become a dazzling white – a brightness beyond our knowing – and all of a sudden, they see Jesus walking and talking with Elijah and Moses – in the midst of the Law and the Prophets. Seeing this, Peter suggests that they build booths – scripture says, because Peter did not know what to say.