I have been to the top of a few mountains in my time. Some I have actually climbed or walked up, such as Snowden in Wales and Table Mountain in South Africa. Others I have reached by cable car: Untersberg in Austria, Table Mountain again; and some have been accessible by car, such as Mount Rainier in Washington State USA, and Pikes peak, Colorado.
We have gazed with fascination at the devastated landscape around Mt. St Helens, relished vistas of snow covered Alps, and hung on with whitened knuckles on the nail-biting ride up the Road to the Sun in the Glacier National Park in Montana, USA
I envy my sister Jo who regularly walks the Pennines and has climbed all the Munroes in Scotland. She is one of the ilk who would say, “If it’s there, climb it!”
But you don’t have to be a seasoned climber to enjoy the exhilaration of standing on a peak looking out over a panorama spread before you receding into misty blue ridges, lakes and forests. Even those who find heights make them nervous love to see a great view!
Terry and I have been spending a few days in Wales, and have marvelled at the wild rugged grandeur of Snowdonia: awesome precipices, soaring pinnacles, jagged silhouettes, ridges, folds and plunging waterfalls. Aren’t you glad the world ain’t flat?
Moses went up a mountain to meet God. A cloud settled over the mountain, lightning flashed and the Voice of God thundered. No wonder the Israelites were terrified! From Mount Sinai the Ten Commandments issued forth.
Mount Carmel was the scene of the mighty contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. A couple of years ago, Terry and I stood on that mountain and understood how strategic that location was. The mountain is surrounded by a vast plain and anything happening on top of it would be visible for miles. Fire falling from Heaven onto the altar on its summit must have been dramatic indeed.
Some centuries later, Moses and Elijah appeared together on top of a mountain: maybe Carmel again, maybe Mt Tabor. Peter, James and John had gone up there with Jesus. It was an extraordinary coming together of Moses who represented the Law, the Old Covenant; Elijah who represented the Prophets, the voice of God speaking to his people; and Jesus, the Messiah they had both dimly foreseen who embodied a New covenant, and who was the Word of God.
Awestruck, the disciples saw these mighty figures radiant with light conversing together. Later Peter would write that they were eye witnesses of “his glory on the sacred mountain.”
But one place often poetically described as a mountain was only a little heap. Artistic impressions, stained glass windows, pictures and films have traditionally depicted it dramatically elevated and illuminated against a menacing dark sky surmounted by three crosses. In reality it is barely a hill and is now the site of a bus station outside the walls of Jerusalem: Calvary. Just a pathetic mound, a rock formation that looks a bit like a skull when the light strikes it and casts shadows.
Disappointing? Sort of. The arena of the most significant event in history should at least, you feel, have a setting suitably grand. Eyes should be drawn upwards in awe, there should be a sacred hush in a place imbued with solemnity. Instead, battered buses come chugging in throwing out fumes, the bustle of traffic surges past uncomprehending, unaware. This is where the Son of God was crucified.
And yet. How eloquent. The Servant King came down to our level. He did not demand that we climb despairingly, trying to reach some unattainable peak. The Law, given on Mount Sinai, had already shown the impossibility of being good enough to reach God by our own strenuous efforts.
“There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin.
He only could unlock the gate of Heaven, and let us in.”
The Word made flesh came from the highest heights and dwelt among us full of grace and truth. He walks with us in our highs and lows; he lifts us from our quagmires of sin and sorrow to reign with him in Heavenly places.
Photograph by Thomas Webster