And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. Matthew 17: 1-8
Our Holy Land pilgrimage was divided between two main areas in Israel: Jerusalem and the surrounding areas and then northern Israel and the Galilee area. We left Jerusalem in our bus to go to Galilee about the fifth full day of our trip. I was ready to leave Jerusalem. It is a beautiful city, but still bustling and busy. We stopped to have lunch in Beit She’an and saw a shepherd with his sheep and sheepdogs up close (will write about that soon).
We approached Mount Tabor and could see it from a distance, as it is mountain just sticking up from a long expanse of plain. As you leave Jerusalem and go north, you cross through the West Bank, which is mostly dry, sad desert. Then as you enter the Jezreel Valley, you begin to see fertile, beautiful green farm lands. It’s hard to imagine these two contrasts could be so close together.
In order to ascend Mount Tabor, you must go through the Bedoin village of Shibli-Umm al-Ghanam. Bedoin are nomadic, and we were always seeing their tents, sheep, and donkeys all over the place in the countryside. It is unusual for them to have a settled village. Because there are switchbacks on the road up to the Church of the Transfiguration on the top of Mt. Tabor, we needed to disembark from the bus at the base of the mountain and squeeze into a few vans. Some of our van drivers drove faster than others, but it was a fun little roller coaster ride up the hillside. (Don’t worry, nobody got car sick!)
The Church of the Transfiguration is beautiful. There are three “tabernacle” areas: one for Moses, one for Elijah, and the main sanctuary for Jesus. Outside, there is a Fourth Century baptismal font, and a view that takes your breath away.
We were able to spend quite a bit of time exploring the grounds, and it was wonderful. At the end, we had a short devotion in Moses’ tabernacle, and we sang “‘Tis Good, Lord, to be Here.” The last stanza reads: “‘Tis good, Lord, to be here! Yet we may not remain; But since Thou bidst us leave the mount, Come with us to the plain.”
This aptly describes my whole experience in the Holy Land. We had prepared for this trip for awhile, and yet when we were there, like Peter’s experience when Jesus was transfigured, it was very surreal. Peter, James, and John got a glimpse of Jesus’ divine nature when he was transfigured on the mountain, and in a sense, we got a quick glimpse of Jesus’ life on earth. It went so fast, we could hardly begin to contemplate that we were actually on ground on which Jesus may have stood. Like Peter, I wanted to say, “Pastor, it’s good that we are here. Let’s just stay here awhile, so we can comprehend where we are.”
But here we are, back home now, and the trip is only a memory. Like Peter wanting to tabernacle on the mountain with Jesus, I keep yearning to go back someday. Yet I know Christ is with me here in Escondido too. He dwells in His Word spoken at church, and He dwells in His Body and Blood in my mouth every Sunday. Jesus died on the cross, forgave my sins, and made me His child through my baptism, so now God the Father can say about me “this is my beloved daughter, with whom I am well-pleased.” Sinner that I am, that is truly a transfiguration.
This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday in the church, and it will be even more special for me this year, with the memory of Mount Tabor fresh in my mind.