Monday Matters (February 20, 2023)


The Collect for the last Sunday after the Epiphany

O God, who before the passion of your only begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

In coming days, Monday Matters will offer reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.

Mountaintop experiences

When have you had a mountaintop experience?

Speaking literally, it can be that exhilarating moment at the conclusion of a hike or the end of a ski lift when you are transported to a place where you get the long view, where beauty grabs your soul and takes your breath away, where worries suddenly seem small. It may be an experience of success, a sense of accomplishment after prolonged striving. It may be a spiritual moment. People speak of retreats as that kind of experience, when daily routine is interrupted and clarity comes with a change of venue. It can be an epiphany in a time of quiet contemplation. It can be a moment when in our grace-starved world you give or receive some kind of grace.

Yesterday in church we read about a mountaintop experience for Jesus and a few disciples. The collect above reflects that story of the Transfiguration, read every Sunday at the end of the season of Epiphany, just a few days before we launch out on the season of Lent. The collect indicates that the mountaintop experience came as those disciples get a clearer glimpse of who Jesus is, as they hear the voice of the Holy One describing Jesus as the beloved, someone worth listening to.

That revelation, that epiphany comes with purpose. While in the story told in the gospel, Peter seems to want to freeze the moment in time (maybe even build a visitor center), that apparently is not what this mountaintop experience was all about. As Pope Francis has said, there’s no such thing as a stationary Christian.

Jesus and the disciples are not meant to stay on the mountaintop. Rather, as they descend, Jesus turns his face toward Jerusalem, toward Holy Week, with all that meant for him. Our church reenacts that movement with the 40 day journey of Lent starting in two days, taking us to Easter. Yesterday’s collect tells us what it’s about two things: being strengthened to bear our cross and being changed into Christ’s likeness.

So we start a journey which will entail bearing our cross. That’s why Lent is presented as a season loaded with challenge. The season is compared to the wilderness, marked by deprivation, hardship, testing. The season resonates because we all know something about those challenges. They come in great variety for sure, but we all have them. I believe we can face them fortified by some recollection of a mountaintop experience. For those of us who swim in the Christian stream, we can face them based on some clearer vision of who Jesus is and why he matters. What has been that epiphany for you? How does your understanding of Jesus give you strength to face challenge?

At the same time, Lent is not just a season marked by challenge. It’s a season for formation. As described in the collect, it’s about being changed into Christ’s likeness. In the same way that we all face challenge, we also all have room to grow in terms of becoming more Christ-like. Where do you see that possibility in your own life? What vision of Christ (what mountaintop revelation) have you had that sets that goal, and allows you to glimpse that possibility?

This Monday morning, give thanks for any mountaintop experience you have had, especially one that involves a clearer vision of who Jesus is and why he matters, why he is worth following. If you have the opportunity, tell someone else about that experience, not to brag, but simply because clarity comes with articulation. Then as you celebrate that recollection, let it sustain you in the challenges ahead as you bear your cross, whatever the challenges may be. (It’s a pretty safe bet that those challenges will show up.) Let the recollection of mountaintops shape you in your own spiritual journey, as you are changed into Christ’s likeness.

-Jay Sidebotham

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