There seems to be something about mountains which appeals to the human imagination. Many will remember the huge excitement generated by Hillary and Tenzing's ascent of Mount Everest, believed then to be the first men ever to climb that massive mountain. Although lately it seems George Mallory may have beaten them to it, losing his life in the process. But now we have better technological support, Everest is climbed so frequently and with such apparent ease by both men and women, that it's no longer considered newsworthy. People are literally queuing up to climb it.


George Mallory wasn't the only person to lose his life climbing mountains. Everest alone has claimed more than 100 lives, but still people clamour to climb it. And the same thing is true of most mountains. Young people, people in their twenties and thirties often with young families, die climbing mountains. Mountains are dangerous areas, yet still human beings are drawn to mountains, and some seem to have a desperate need to climb them.

No-one seems to know quite what the attraction is. Perhaps it's the satisfaction of physical challenge, of pitting yourself against the elements. Perhaps it's getting away from it all, the chance to step back from life for a while. For us lesser mortals who may just about manage to stagger up Snowdon or Scafell once in a while, it might be the thought of the amazing panoramic view from the top - if you're lucky enough to hit a day when the peak is free from cloud. But for most mountaineers the answer usually seems to be, "Because it's there!"


Or perhaps it's something to do with God. There's certainly a feeling of being close to the wild and untamed elements of nature on a mountain, a feeling which has long been associated with holiness. Somehow, when people come face to face with the vastness and the majesty of the earth, they perhaps sense something of God.


From the beginning of the Bible certain mountains were considered to be holy places, places where you might meet with God. Moses met God on a mountain and learned God's name, and then used to regularly meet with God on Mount Horeb. In the New Testament, Jesus took Peter, James and John up a mountain, and was there transfigured before them. That transfiguration confirmed the holiness, the deity of Jesus.


Jesus often wandered into the mountains to be alone and to commune with God. As the psalm (121) says, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help? My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth." And just as people continue to do today, Jesus would return from the hills refreshed and renewed and ready to continue with his life's work.


So perhaps it wasn't altogether surprising that on his last appearance on earth after his death and resurrection, Jesus invited his disciples to meet him on the mountain in their home territory of Galilee. Neither is it surprising that when they saw him they worshipped him, for if you meet your dead leader alive and well on a mountain, you would surely know you were meeting with God.


What is surprising is that we're told some doubted. Presumably this was a significant doubt, one which was sufficiently disturbing to the early church to be recorded. And presumably it was more than one person, for if it was only one or two disciples out of the eleven we'd be told, "Thomas doubted", or Thomas and James doubted" or whatever.


How is it possible to actually see your dead leader alive and well again, and doubt? And what did they doubt? The evidence of their own eyes and of six weeks of resurrection appearances? Or did they accept all that but still doubt that Jesus was divine? Did they think that despite all they had experienced and seen through Jesus, they couldn't possibly be meeting with God?


From the beginnings of the Bible, the beginnings of the Jewish religion, it was well known that no-one could see God and live. God, like the mountain, was mighty and supremely powerful and somewhat unpredictable. No-one knew when his wrath might inadvertently break out against his people, with dire results. That's why Moses, and later the priests, were the intermediaries between God and his people, because it was too dangerous for the ordinary people to meet with God. And after Moses met with God, he had to wear a veil over his face, for his face shone so radiantly that it hurt people's eyes.


So with all that historical background, with generations - centuries - of tradition which said no-one could see God and survive the experience, what were the disciples to make of this man, this human being, this friend of theirs, who asked them to meet him on a mountain?


Some were able to take a huge leap and acknowledge Jesus as somehow or other, the human face of God himself, even though such a thing had never been heard of or thought of before. Others, although they apparently fell down and worshipped him with all their friends, weren't quite so sure in their own minds. They didn't disbelieve, but they didn't believe either. They doubted. They needed more time to come to terms with these new ideas.


But as far as Jesus was concerned, none of that mattered. He commissioned all of them, both those who were certain and those who doubted, to go out and spread the news to the whole world. There was only one way any of them could do that, through the God within, the Holy Spirit. Baptism is entry into the Christian Church, and so they were to encourage new church members in the name of God the Father - the Creator, God the Son - Jesus, and God the Holy Spirit - the God within.


Nothing has changed. We can still meet God on mountains, and anywhere else we choose. We're still invited to spread the good news and to encourage new church members. And whether you're rock solid in your Christian beliefs, or whether you doubt, you're all equally welcome and equally precious to God and to his church, and you're all invited to play your particular part in sharing God's love with your friends and neighbours. And you can do that, because Jesus is always with us to the end of time itself, through the Holy Spirit, the God within.


A prayer

Three-in-one God,

There's a problem with mountains - they have to be climbed. They don't just disappear, or conveniently move out of the way. And mountain climbing is dangerous, it's a risky business. Three-in-one God, some aspects of Christianity are like mountains, huge insoluble problems. Just as so many aspects of life seem to be huge, insoluble problems.


Three-in-one God, help me to remember that I can meet you on mountains, and that the rewards of mountain climbing have to be experienced to be appreciated. Give me the courage and endurance to go forward in faith. Stop me crawling back into the comfort zone of the Christian couch potato, but equip me to be a Christian mountaineer.


I ask this through God - the source of all being, Jesus - God become human, and the Holy Spirit - the God Within.



Rev’d Canon Stuart Ansell


Leaps of Faith

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