Before Lent: "Going Up a Hill and Down a Mountain"

The Revd Robin Sims-Williams

Reading today’s Gospel I was reminded of the film, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, which tells the story of two English surveyors who turn up in a fictional Welsh town to measure the mountain, which their initial measurements indicate, to the anger of the inhabitants of the village, that the mountain is in fact just short of the 1000 ft requirement for a mountain. They are held at bay until the locals can transport enough earth to the top of the hill, to ensure it remains a mountain and the pride of their village. As you might expect it’s not just the hill that’s transformed, the young englishman, played by Hugh Grant, becomes a bit less strict about the rules (and falls in love withone of the locals) and the pastor (Rev Jones) becomes a bit more pastoral.

Stories about transformation as a result of climbing mountains, or as a result of long walks are a film genre onto themselves. The recent release of Wild staring Reese Witherspoon as a young woman trying to heal herself after her divorce and the death of her mother, is but one example. Another is The Way where Martin Sheen walks the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage through the Pyrenees after his son dies towards the beginning of his own attempt of the pilgrimage.

I’ve had three separate expeditions in the Pyrenees, each absolutely awe inspiring - climbing to places and through terrains I wouldn’t have imagined always challenging my friend, Paul, and I to do things we hadn’t previously done. The freedom of sleeping on the side of the mountain, the sense of self-sufficiency, was enough to make me wish, at least at times, I never had to descend back to the valley.

The last proper time Paul and I went climbing in the Pyrenees it was a month before Iris was due to be born. It was the last great hurrah! But this time there was a clear need to get back on time, and in one piece. The excitement that came with achieving the ascents were paralleled with responsibility to descend. Much like with designing aircraft - whatever goes up must come down. This time though, unlike most of our previous trips, the descent became the hardest bit.

Somewhere in a wood on the steep side of a mountain a tree had uprooted, taking the path with it. Said path had therefore been under used and rejoining it proved almost impossible. The maps were infuriating, the GPS inadequate in the tree cover and the light was fading fast. At times we had to slide down on our bags using trees to slow our descent, until eventually we rediscovered the path. But it was a stomach churning time. I was limping by the time we arrived at a campsite at the bottom and pitched our little two man dome next to a great camper van. In a way the transformation on this trip was more about the descent than the summit, and more about realising what transformation had already begun, it was realising the degree to which I would now be relied upon, the responsibility I would have as somebody with those who depended upon me.

Reaching the summit, achieving the goal of the expedition is great but I think there is a pretty good argument for saying it’s a bit pointless unless you are able to share the experience with people that weren’t there… At very least, achieving the summit first, if you don’t get down to tell people about it, doesn’t count for much in the record books. And part of sharing the experience involves understanding how its affected the climber.

Jesus, Peter, James and John reach their own summit. Jesus is transfigured before them and James, Peter and John are awe struck. Peter figures this is a pretty good place to be, why go messing about with a good thing! It’s a compelling desire to build a tent and stay where he is. But, as with any realisation, any transformation, any achievement… there comes a responsibility to share what has happened. Share the joy of the achievement, share the benefits of it.

The same is true for the successes we have in our lives: The growth of a business results in a responsibility towards those who one must employ. The creation of new technology comes with a responsibility to share it with those who need it. The restoration of an organ comes with the responsibility to share the restored heritage with the local community. The agreement of peace between leaders in Ukraine comes with a necessary responsibility to follow through with the commitment to share that peace in the region.

So the confirmation of Jesus as the Son of God during today’s gospel comes with a responsibility for the Disciples to share in the events that come and be witnesses to them. Now, the observant among you will have noticed that I appear to be saying the exact opposite of what the Gospel says at the end… ‘he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen’ and here comes one of the great themes of Mark’s telling of the story. Again and again Jesus performs miracles, the disciples are told to keep shtum, and they fail to. Jesus doesn’t want to be known as a ‘miracle worker’, a ‘conjurer of tricks’ who can make people appear and light to emit around him. The message he wants the disciples to share is the one about his death and resurrection. At the end of Mark’s gospel, when the body goes missing, and they are told that Jesus has been risen from the dead, and they are told to ‘go and tell the others that he is going ahead of you to Galilee.’ we are told that they flee and say nothing to anyone. The whole Gospel is both telling us the importance of sharing what’s happened, and the difficulty in actually doing it.

Peter’s first task is to go with Jesus to the cross, to realise how he is being transformed by it and to share the joy & excitement of that transformation with the world. So through Lent we reflect on how we are transformed by God’s love in the story of Christ’s coming into the world. And through Reckless Giving we seek to share God’s love with the same excitement, joy and sense of fun which Peter has in the Gospel.