Year A, Transfiguration
Sometimes we get asked if we are planning to adopt another child. It is doubtful, but I rarely say never anymore because things don’t usually happen according to how you expect them to happen, at least they haven’t for me. But the bottom line for me is— the adoption process was absolutely terrifying. No doubt pregnancy and child birth are terrifying as well, but for different reasons. The reason that adoption is scary is that you have the child for 4 months before that child is legally yours. And that’s after you have the child in your home. Before that, there is even more uncertainty. It’s why we didn’t prepare a room or even buy a car seat until we were on our way to pick him up from the hospital. For those first few months, I thought the anxiety and uncertainty would drive me insane. Of course like all babies, he didn’t sleep much at night. When he finally fell asleep, I would just watch him and cry for fear of losing him. I remember watching him sleep feeling desperate with the desire to hold on to that moment.
So I feel a special connection with Peter in this Gospel story. I understand his desperation and fear. I understand how his love for Jesus was tangled up with his fear of losing him. I imagine that Peter was eager to walk up that mountain with Jesus and the other two disciples. They had been surrounded by crowds for quite some time. Finally he would have some time with Jesus, just Jesus. Right before this story, Jesus had started to explain to his disciples that he would soon be killed. That news had upset all the disciples, but none more than Peter. Peter had been so upset that he argued with Jesus. He told Jesus he was wrong. It’s understandable that Peter would be upset by Jesus’ prediction of his impending death, but apparently Jesus was not pleased that one of his disciples scolded him. Jesus got so mad he called Peter Satan and told him that he was thinking human thoughts when he should be thinking divinely.
My guess is that Peter was still feeling the sting of this reprimand and relieved to be one of the disciples Jesus chose to accompany him up the mountain. He probably felt this would be his opportunity to make up for his earlier error. Perhaps he was determined to think divinely, just as Jesus had advised. Well, if he wanted divine, he got divine. When they got to the top of the mountain, Jesus was transfigured. His face glowed like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white. Then, if that was not enough, two great leaders of the Jewish faith (who were supposed to be dead by the way) appeared beside him.
Peter was determined to be helpful and offered to make dwellings for the three of them. Many have interpreted this as a foolish move on Peter’s part. Why would two dead people and the Son of God need tents? Isn’t this just Peter once again setting his mind on human things? Or maybe Peter understands more than people give him credit for. I think Peter realized that this was a divine moment and that he needed to mark it in some way, preserve it—not because he was clinging to something ephemeral, but because he wanted to mark the occasion, carve it into ground of this mountain and into his heart.
That’s what we do every Sunday when we have this liturgy. People who are not familiar with it might consider it arcane or antiquated. That’s fine if that is what they want to see. But in my mind, what we are doing is reminding ourselves of our connection to the divine. It’s true, we can see the divine anywhere and everywhere. We can find God in a sunset or the laughter of a child. But here at church, in the context of the liturgy we are intentional about finding the divine in our everyday lives, not just the beautiful moments.
When I was struggling with this sermon, I was trying to think of times of clarity, when I had a clear sense of the divine, a clear direction in where God was leading me. All the examples I could come up with were happy times, celebratory events, times of light and love. But for most of us, those moments aren’t consistent. And if we can only find God in the perfect sunset or rainbow, then we will find the dark days, the anxious times, the lonely times—almost unbearable.
Peter was no fool. He knew that things with Jesus were about to get very scary. He knew this might be one of the last times where he could get a clear and profound glimpse of the glory of God. So he wanted to carve that moment out in the mud and the muck so that he could carry it with him always. And in a strange way, that is what the Eucharist is—it’s that point in the week where we remember the whole story. Listen to the prayer. It’s the whole story of salvation, leading to the crucifixion and the resurrection. We tell that story of the suffering and the triumph every week. We tell that story here in this beautiful space, but also in the hospital room with the person who is about to die, in the field of battle with soldiers who are risking their lives, in the home of the person who has not been able to leave their home because of illness. That sacred story of suffering and triumph is not confined to the beauty of the church sanctuary, nor was Peter trying to confine the divine to three tents on a hill. But I think he was desperate to remember it, carve it into his heart and mind.
What he did not realize is that every minute with Jesus was precious, not just when he glowed incandescently. The most beautiful part of this text, is not the moment Jesus glowed like the sun with the two dead prophets. It wasn’t even when God spoke from the heavens. It was the time when all was quiet again and Jesus reached down and touched his disciples who were now cowering in the dirt and said, “Get up and do not be afraid.” Obviously, that didn’t wipe every fear from the mind of Peter but it did remind him that he was not alone on this journey.
Often, in the dark points of our life, we look up for something bright, something that will lead us and guide us. And if we cannot find that, we think that God has deserted us. Yet often, we find that even in the darkest places, God is there, reaching down and touching us on the shoulder…leading us not by sight, but with his presence. He might not appear as something bright and shiny because our God knows darkness and desperation. He knows what it looks like and what it feels like. But more importantly, he also knows that there is always a way out. It’s ok to want to hold on to those precious moments, but it’s also important to remember that experiences with God are never as fleeting as we think they are. They are all around. We just need to reach up and take a hold of the hand resting on our shoulder and rise to meet whatever road is before us. That is what Jesus told Peter then and what he tells us now, “Get up and do not be afraid.”