It is interesting what we remember of events, experiences and the years. Often it is not what we would be expected to remember, what we would think one would remember.
An event like the transfiguration is so over powering, so dramatic that it is perhaps too much for our senses to take in and process – the clouds, the visions of others, the voice from above – we are overwhelmed by the experience.
People who have been involved in a great tragedy, gone to war, survived a serious accident or personal trauma, more often than not have no words to describe the immensity of that occurred. They cannot describe the feelings, the sense of dread and loss, the moment when all that seemed rational and ordinary collapsed into chaos and extraordinary. Unless you were there you have no real idea of what happened and what was being experienced by those involved.
It is often suggested that those who go through child abuse, war and more are rescued by the brain which closes down, not to avoid but to protect from the complete destruction accompanying the unimaginable nature of the event. At some point one may in fact be able to approach these experiences from a different place and time, but at this particular time, it is not in your best interest to do so.
The disciples have gone away for some time out with Jesus. They had gone up and out from the daily grind of healing, miracles, teaching and engaging with followers. It must have felt like a good thing to do. We do not know how long they had been there or what they were doing (perhaps praying and meditating, perhaps sleeping, perhaps nothing). We do know something extraordinary happened sometime in the time and space they had made for themselves, something extraordinary happened.
They had no words for it and struggle to give it meaning. Mark in his typical style is both dramatic and understated. In 2 paragraphs in our text he describes, in dramatic brevity, an event one could have taken pages to write about. Yet it is perhaps best described with as little embellishment as possible because his sources would not have had the words to use nor, I suggest, the faith people would believe them if they told the full story.
They didn’t even discuss it as they came down the mountain. It was like they didn’t know whether the others had seen what they saw or was it was their own particular delusion. I remember working with a person in a homeless project when I was only 19. He had come to us as a referral from an alcohol centre and had a conversion experience. He was, he said a psychologist and began running groups etc. I felt there was something not right but he seemed to get along with the others in the group so I dismissed it as my problem. Later, when it all collapsed, I discovered that each other person had had the same misgivings but didn’t talk about them for the very same reasons – we didn’t want to look foolish.
What did the disciples discuss? What is this “risen from the dead” Jesus was talking about? They returned to what they knew, theology, and wanted to try and rationally understand what was happening. They would have known about the resurrection of the dead “.. a core doctrine of traditional Jewish theology. Traditional Jews believe that during the Messianic Age, the temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem, the Jewish people ingathered from the far corners of the earth and the bodies of the dead will be brought back to life and reunited with their souls. It is not entirely clear whether only Jews, or all people, are expected to be resurrected at this time.
This belief is mentioned explicitly only twice in the Hebrew Bible, in the books of Isaiah and Daniel, though hints of it are extrapolated from other biblical sources.”
If this is what Jesus was talking about they were indeed living in interesting times. It meant the end of the age as they knew it was going to occur sooner rather than later, and that they were in the midst of something apocalyptic. Jesus was therefore the Messiah and they were about to usher in a new world for all, specifically the Jews.
Yet, it seems, they were troubled by this and wondered what it actually looked like? What was really about to happen? They had no tradition for individual resurrection as such and therefore would not have been thinking of the resurrection of Jesus. Their tradition was always about the community and God speaking and working through the whole not individuals. Individual experience always had to be translated into an experience for the whole, the community. The idea that God spoke directly to individuals for their benefit and power came much, much later and is not a Jewish or Christian tradition.
So what were they thinking? We really don’t know.
Resurrection as we see it in the Easter story is always a surprise, unexpected, unfathomable It comes upon us later without any real warning and brings about a newness we had never seen coming.
And it always does. We may experience incredible events like the disciples experience. We may be left with no rational answers yet there is always a sense of something else is going to happen. And we are always asked to be quite about what we have experienced so the experience and us do not take the centre of attention. We are left to ponder, if this has happened where is the resurrection, the risen from the dead?
In the post modern world of our day, we have watched and experienced massive change, as we discussed last week; we have watched the collapse of empire and Christendom and the slow decrease in institutions such as the church and ponder – what is “this risen from the dead?” How is this going to happen, what is it goingto look like?
It happens by going down the mountain, back into the middle of the day to day stuff, the place where we test out our theology and learn about who we are and how we respond to the mystery of the Divine. They do not stay in the rarefied atmosphere of mystical experience; they get their hands dirty, rub shoulders with lepers and tax collectors and go about the business of changing the world they know one community at a time and kept silent about the mystical experience on the mountain.
I suggest what happened remained firmly fixed in their minds, but they got on with the job of community engagement, truth telling and burden carrying. They may have wanted an answer to the question, what is this risen from the dead, but walking the kingdom into the world was their first priority.
When they got the answer it was nothing like they expected.
As we walk the kingdom of God in to this community of Glen Iris/Ashburton we, too will be surprised by the answer we get to that same question – what is this risen from the dead? Perhaps a different church, community and a different spiritual experience than we have had before or can even imagine.