Christ Upon the Mountain Peak
This summer 14 Candler students are serving in ministry through Candler Advantage, a paid summer internship in conjunction with Candler’s Contextual Education Program. Over the course of the summer many of these students will be sharing their experiences here on the blog.
There is a little gem of a hymn in The United Methodist Hymnal (p. 260) that features the poetry of Brian Wren, emeritus professor of worship and hymn writer from across Decatur at Columbia Theological Seminary. It is a beautiful and poetic song, albeit one set to a difficult tune, that intentionally forces the singer to face the majesty and terribleness of Christ’s divinity revealed to his disciples, Peter, James and John in Matthew 17. It is titled “Christ Upon the Mountain Peak” and features the refrain:
Christ upon the mountain peak stands alone in glory blazing;
let us, if we dare to speak, with the saints and angels praise him. Alleluia!
“Let us, if we dare to speak,” – this phrase gets at, what I think, is the heart of the Gospel story in Matthew’s Transfiguration – the inability of language to speak to that which is unspeakable. These unspeakable moments are those experiences in which we glimpse something greater than ourselves.
I thought I understood this hymn. I have even preached on it, but I am not sure I truly appreciated the imagery of “Christ Upon the Mountain Peak” until I experienced the brilliancy of the morning sunshine cutting through the early morning fog that had settled on the Smoky Mountains. Watching the sunshine pour into the valley and bounce off the waters of Lake Junaluska like a giant mirror, I think I truly appreciated the need for the disciples to tremble “at his feet.”
A friend of mine calls these occasions – “golden moments.” Golden moments are flashes of liminality, where you stand on the threshold between two different existential planes. This liminal existence can be located within sacred space, but I prefer to think of it as those experiences that occupy sacred time. In such a liminal space, the individual experiences the revelation of sacred knowledge where God imparts God’s knowledge on the person. So many of our stories in scripture feature the imparting of divine wisdom to humanity on top of a mountain. My summer internship at Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center in western North Carolina as part of the Candler Advantage program has been filled with these “golden moments.”
I have spent the past two months working as the Summer Worship Coordinator for Lake Junaluska’s Summer Worship Series, a nine-week series featuring guest preachers from all over the world (www.lakejunaluska.com/summer-worship). As part of my job, I get to design and order worship and then reflect on the ways in which our community is being shaped as a Christian people through our liturgy, literally, “the work of the people.” All of this has taken place against the resplendent backdrop of the Smoky Mountains, in a place that has served for almost 100 years as sacred space to Christians, particularly, United Methodists in the Southeastern portion of the United States. Lake Junaluska seems to maintain this sense of liminality. I will always remember my Candler Advantage internship as an intense, hands on, real-world experience set within this sacred space where the threshold between reality and divinity seem to be blurred.