During the final semester of their freshman year, in early June, 2020, working remotely from Minneapolis because of the COVID-19 pandemic, our 19 year old Charlie sent me a midnight text:
Only six months in (now five months ago), it already seemed as if the whole world had been turned upside down, all our plans and structures shaken, everything confused. Charlie had been documenting the pandemic, interviewing, through the crackle & difficulty of remote connections, candidates for political office, civil servants, community leaders, university administrators, etc.; filming empty, locked down roads & landscapes, and – after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis – filming the continuing street protests against police brutality. I recorded the Bible passage she requested, and Charlie used that (plus music by Philip Glass) to frame the words & images from this year’s apocalyptic landscape.
Here’s the final product, not a documentary, but a “new media” artifact for contemplation:
Now after six days, Jesus took Peter, 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 garments became white as the light. And behold, they saw 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 booths here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking, when lo! a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, filled with fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and fear not!” And looking up, they saw no one, but Jesus only. And coming down the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Tell no one the vision until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”
Jesus takes only his closest friends up on Mount Tabor and comes out to them; Jesus shows them openly what dwells at his deepest heart – it’s the Law & the Prophets & the Shekhina Glory of God calling him Beloved! And of course it’s overwhelming & ungraspable, especially that last part, and all their plans for sturdy structures are bowled over; they’re terrified and undone by fear. But Jesus lifts them up, and he’s still there, their close friend. Jesus tells them to hold on to the vision they’ve seen in secret (like Mary treasuring shepherd’s tales of angels in her heart), as they head down the mountain together and back into the world.
As he comes down the mountain in Matthew 17, Jesus is setting his face toward Jerusalem, to walk out his identity as the Beloved in the midst of powers & principalities, counting the cost, knowing it will lead him into death. Just a little earlier (Matthew 16), Jesus had told his disciples of all the horrific things he would have to suffer – and Peter contradicted him! It’s just too horrible! But after this vision (the cloud! the voice!), his closest friends have seen who Jesus is, and they will have to trust and grapple with that knowledge through all the triumph, sorrow, controversy, and betrayals of his final days. What could it mean for the Beloved Son of God to walk through such trials, laden with such love & glory?
One thing for certain, it’s not what they wanted, and definitely not what they expected. As on that mountain, as in this year, all our plans are overthrown, and following Jesus doesn’t look the way it did before. But Jesus lifts us up and says, Fear not. Know you are beloved. Keep an eye out for glory. Walk with me. Hold on to the vision until everything is accomplished.