A Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday
February 15, 2015
(2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-12; Mark 9:2-9)
I was glad we were alone. Just Jesus and me – his right-hand man. He called me ‘Peter’ – it means ‘rock’. I thought of myself as Jesus’ go-to man.
But this time I really had put my foot in it. Though he didn’t shout I still felt the blood drain at his rebuke: ‘Get behind me, Satan’. He almost whispered – but it still gutted me.
But all this talk of suffering and death. What was I supposed to do – say nothing? I knew even then he was likely to start talking like this beyond our little group. And he did: ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’. I shook me head: numbers were going to go south.
It took me so long to realise who Jesus was. His teaching seemed to come from another place – people referred to an air of ‘authority’. It manifest in encounters with the ‘unclean spirits’ that were – over time – simply undeniable. He healed illness with a touch of his hand. Yet, it still took me years to see.
But I did. When he asked: ‘Who do you say I am?’ I answered with full conviction: ‘You are the Christ’. I didn’t think I could believe anything more completely.
But then all this suffering and death talk started. It always concluded with something about rising from the dead, but, how could we even begin to imagine what that might mean. I am not the sharpest tool in the shed, but I know the finality of death. I’ve buried loved ones. It’s just reality. How could I even imagine anything else?
But this was more than merely bad PR. The Christ was coming to set us free, to re-establish Israel and – no doubt – remove Rome. Messiahs just don’t die – they reign and conquer. Everyone knows this – except, it would seem – Jesus.
I barely spoke for days after that rebuke. I wasn’t sulking. I just had nothing to say. I didn’t really know if I had any future with Jesus. After all these years, how did I get it so wrong?
And then Jesus invited James, John and myself to walk.
Jesus sure picks his mountains. We trecked, it seemed, right into the sky – all the way maintaining our silence. It was good for me: the tension seemed to drop away as we fell into rhythm. At least we could still walk together. At the summit we were, predictably, alone.
And then it happened. Jesus stood before us radiating white. It was definitely him – but he was almost shining. Something – I still don’t know what – was happening. It was like – just for a moment – Jesus was so much more than human.
But as the three of us watched we noticed Jesus doing the most human of all things: Jesus was talking. He was finally breaking the silence!
Mind you, he wasn’t talking to us. Jesus was speaking to the greatest of all the prophets – Elijah – the one who never died but was escorted by armies of horses and chariots of fire. This man rode a whirlwind into heaven. Moses – winner of freedom from Egypt and the giver of our law – also joined in the conversation.
I did my best to overhear. But I was terrified. Moses was not supposed to be either living nor here in the ‘promised land’. The last we heard Elijah was taken to heaven – he wasn’t even supposed to be on earth. Both had not been seen for centuries.
Fear does strange things to a man. I don’t like to think about my offer to provide shelter to Moses, Elijah, and Jesus anymore. As if any of them needed my protection from the elements!
We did, however. In a moment the clouds enveloped the mountain. It grew dark. The view disappeared.
And then a voice: “This is my Son, listen to him.” It boomed in my chest, weakened my knees. For a moment I was taken back to the old synagogue song: ‘God is not silent’.
Moses, Elijah, Jesus, John, James, and myself – we were all there. But I knew these words for me.
On the way down Jesus told us to say nothing – at least not until after he’d risen from the dead. Even after this epiphany Jesus used that language – death then life.
Of course, I listened harder to Jesus after this; kept my silence a little longer. That mountain-top glimpse of that unveiled face was a watershed moment. I now knew how much I didn’t know. That heavenly conversation humbled me.
I maintain that I was right about one thing, however: it really was good that we were there.
You see, I don’t know if I would have followed Jesus until the end without that experience. It didn’t clarify my questions – I didn’t even understand when the two Marys told me they had seen the resurrected Jesus. They claimed an angel specifically told them to report this personally to me: ‘Go, tell his disciples, and Peter’ – that he is going before you to Galilee.’
No, I didn’t understand. But I hiked all the way Galilee to find out. I just knew how wrong I could be. What if there was more to see – another revealing – another ‘epiphany’?
My fellow apostle, Paul, recently wrote about my blindness – and the blindness of others – to the mysterious, back-to-front workings of God. He’s right, even now so many seem ‘blind’ to this earth shattering reality.
But we keep on telling our story: ‘God has shone into our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’. I read Paul’s words and I’m transported back to that mountain – that unveiled face!
Somehow we, like Jesus, don’t look like messengers from heaven. We apostles do it tough. We know persecution and suffering almost every day.
But so did Jesus.
Nowadays its like we’re living life along the same path as Jesus. Death is all around us, but we expect life. That power that conquered the tomb is living in us. The life of the crucified Jesus is at work all around us.
It is a reality I once couldn’t possibly see. Now, however, it is my everything.