Leave a comment

UPS AND DOWNS, HIGHS AND LOWS (Views from the Abbey 21)

Archibald Orr Ewing (1857-1930) was born into a wealthy family in Scotland. A successful businessman, he was deeply influenced for Christ both through the D L Moody mission to Glasgow in 1882, and by attending the Keswick Convention in 1885. As a result he devoted himself to missionary service and served with the China Inland Mission from 1886 to 1911. It is said that he was so devoted to Christ, and spent such quality time in prayerful communion with the Lord Jesus, that his features became radiant, so much so that the Chinese people called him ‘Mr Glory Face.’

Today (at this time of writing) is the final Sunday in Epiphany, a day on which traditionally we reflect on the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor (Matthew 17:1-5) where we see Jesus’ divinity shone through his humanity. Not so much ‘Glory Face’ but ‘Glory Whole Body!’ The word transfiguration means ‘a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state.’ Here is a moment in time when heaven and earth meet, time and eternity, divinity and humanity are one. Matthew records that Jesus was transfigured and literally shone with the glory of God! ‘His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. Sunlight poured from his face. His clothes were filled with light. Then they realised that Moses and Elijah where also there in deep conversation with him’ (v. 3 the Message). Moses represented the Law and the promise of salvation that is fulfilled through Jesus’ Passion. Elijah represented the Prophets, as the appointed restorer of all things perfectly achieved in Jesus.

To have been there on the top of that mountain and witnessed this must have been an amazing experience. Matthew tells us that Peter started babbling about building shelters for them all, referring perhaps to the Feast of Tabernacles where booths were built to commemorate Israel’s wandering in the wilderness (Leviticus 23:33-44). Peter, you see, wanted to cherish this precious event, to capture the experience, to preserve it … to ‘stay in the moment’ for the rest of time and eternity! But … after the cloud had enveloped them and they had heard the voice speaking the same words spoken at Jesus’ baptism – ‘this is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’ (the Father identifying Jesus as not simply a mere human being, but the very Son of God) – the moment was over, and they had to start the long walk back down the mountain (v. 9).

There are many examples in Scripture of God meeting with people on mountains, e.g. Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:19), Mount Zion (2 Chronicles 3:1). God seems to have a thing about mountains, and often leads people to the top of them to encounter him, or to receive some new revelation or spiritual experience, e.g. Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:20), Mount of Olives (Acts 1:12). We too can have mountain top experiences of revelation and encounter. However, just like the disciples we cannot hang on to them, or try and bottle them, or attempt to ‘stay in that particular moment’ for ever and ever more, amen! We have to come back down from the mountain, back down to the valley.

On the way down from the Mount of Transfiguration, Matthew tells us, Jesus spoke to the disciples about the suffering and death he is going to face (v. 12). He also talked to them of the death of John the Baptist (v. 13). I wonder if this was the first that they had heard about it. Having had this amazing spiritual experience they are back down to earth with a heavy bump.

Our lives are full of such ups and downs, highs and lows. Praise God for the mountain highs … but God is with us just as much in the valley lows. ‘Israel had many mountain top experiences of God… but all their battles were won in the valleys’ (Jim Binney). The ups and downs of life make us who we are. Our stories are part of us. The highs and lows of our spiritual experience of God forge our character. They are often the crucible of Christian virtue. Paul tells us that we can ‘rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope’ (Romans 5:3,4). Despite all we go through – perhaps because of it – hope comes alive in our hearts. Can we even thank God for the lows, our mistakes, our failures, our bruising, our scars … because they have made us who we are and brought us closer to God? As God promised his Old Testament people through the prophet Hosea, ‘I will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope’ (Hosea 2:15). God can transform our valleys of trouble into mountains of hope. Only God can transfigure our downs into ups, our lows into highs!

Waking up to a new sunrise,
Looking back from the other side,
I can see now with open eyes.

Darkest water and deepest pain,
I wouldn’t trade it for anything,
‘Cause my brokenness brought me to you.

And these wounds are a story you’ll use.

So I’m thankful for the scars.
‘Cause without them I wouldn’t know your heart.
And I know they’ll always tell of who you are.
So forever I am thankful for the scars.

Now I’m standing in confidence,
With the strength of your faithfulness,
And I’m not who I was before.
No, I don’t have to fear anymore.

I can see, I can see how you delivered me.
In your hands, in your feet I found my victory.

I’m thankful for your scars.
‘Cause without them I wouldn’t know your heart.
And with my life, I’ll tell of who you are.
So forever I am thankful for the scars.

Matthew Armstrong, Matthew Hein, Ethan Hulse, Jon Mcconnell 2018

~ Julia Binney

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: