Jesus wanted to pray. This wasn’t unusual. He was always praying. He would often leave us mid evening and set off by himself, and we’d see him again sometime the next morning. This time he wanted company. It had been a long, busy day and to be honest, I could have done with my bed, but there was something about the way he asked that made it hard to refuse. There were four of us. Peter and John, Jesus, and myself.
I wasn’t sure where we were going. Only that it was up, and up, and more up. There was very little light, and it took all my concentration to keep following. I could just about see where I was putting my next step. There was no conversation. We didn’t have the breath for that. It seemed to go on forever. If I was tired before I started, I was exhausted now. This praying stuff was hard work, and no mistake. Finally he stopped. I guess we must have been somewhere near the top, but I couldn’t really see. It had been warm enough as we were making the effort of climbing, but after a few minutes of pause, I could feel the chill air and drew my cloak around me. Peter, John and I had flopped down to the ground very soon after stopping. I guess we were all feeling pretty much the same.
We have never discussed that night. In fact this is the first time I have told this story. The details are burned into my memory, together with a host of swirling emotions. I have gone over them many times in my mind, but it is hard to find the words to describe quite what happened.
Jesus remained standing, a little way from us. He was praying silently. I am afraid I was shaking my head to stay awake. Too tired to pray. Too tired to think. My body and my brain were trying to shut down and it was all I could do to fight it. He had wanted us with him for some reason, and I was trying to do just that, but losing. I tried to keep my eyes focused on him, and listening for anything he might say.
I thought I must have started dreaming. Either that or the thin mountain air was playing tricks with my brain. Jesus’ face began to radiate with light as did his clothes. It was like he lit up from within. Brighter and brighter, until I was completely dazzled. Frightening didn’t begin to cover it. It is strange how overwhelming light can feel. I don’t have a word that describes it adequately. I thought I knew this man I had worked alongside, but this being, radiant with glory beyond imagining, splintered all my preconceptions.
All at once there were three of them. Three shining figures talking together. It was Moses and Elijah. Don’t ask me how I knew that, I have never been able to explain that to myself – but I knew without a shadow of doubt, that is who they were, the instant I saw them. Moses was speaking to him of the ‘Exodus’ Jesus was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. A deliverance that would eclipse the rescue Moses led, by a million miles. (At the time, I barely understood what they were talking about. I heard the words, but I couldn’t take them in. I see so clearly now they were encouraging him for his journey to the cross as ‘the Lamb of God’.) Their conversation came to a close, and Moses and Elijah appeared to be turning to leave him.
Peter’s voice made me jump. Speaking too fast and too loudly, he gabled something about making shelters for each of them. I think he wanted this extraordinary moment to last longer- I am not even sure if he knew what he was saying. The words had barely left his lips when we were all enveloped in a cloud. Weather can change very quickly in the mountains, but this was like no cloud I had ever seen. I find it hard to explain it to you. It was terrifying. Like the cloud that led the Israelites out of Egypt and across the desert- we were engulfed in God. The sense of being in the Presence of the Almighty God was electrifying. I could barely breathe. I have never felt such an intense awareness of holiness. It made me want to lie flat on my face, but I couldn’t move. To be honest, I didn’t know if I was still alive.
Then God spoke. Spoke to me- to us. It sounded like thunder and yet felt like a whisper. I know that doesn’t make sense, but you’ll have to believe me. “THIS IS MY SON” the words were charged with such love and power “ MY CHOSEN”
I trembled from head to foot. “LISTEN TO HIM!” As the sound died away, the cloud melted and Jesus was simply standing there. Alone. The same man that had climbed the mountain with us, looking very human and vulnerable, and yet everything had changed.
We didn’t speak. Couldn’t speak. Even Peter, for once, was completely silent. Awestruck. I was still trembling. The command to listen was still echoing in my ears and I was listening with every fibre of my being. Jesus didn’t say a word, but his face and his eyes spoke volumes. The light no longer blazed from his face, but my heart was aflame.
Some months later I heard him describe himself to those listening to him as “the Light of the world” and that “those who followed him would never walk in darkness” and I was instantly taken back to that mountain. How it felt as I walked back down. As if I was carrying the Light I had seen. I understood him even less than before, and yet I would follow him wherever he led, even if I didn’t know where he was going. I had to follow him even into the darkness, as how else would I see? How else would I hear?
And to think I almost fell asleep.