Have you ever said anything on the spur of the moment, then deeply regretted it afterwards? I know I have….
In today’s Gospel reading Peter, along with James and John, witnesses Jesus’ transfiguration and blurts out that he and the others should set up three shelters, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. Then we have the statement in brackets, “He did not know what to say, they were so frightened”.
What must have been going through Peter’s mind? What could he have made of this revelation of Jesus’ glory as the Christ?
Peter is someone who we can identify with so strongly in the gospels because he so often gets it wrong. I doubt we would have done better.
Peter’s instinct is to preserve the moment for ever, to keep Jesus in his blazing white and Moses and Elijah with him in shelters. It was in some ways a very natural reaction. When something wonderful happens to us, we feel like we want to preserve it for ever and, of course, we have the means at our disposal in photographs, videos and on our computers.
Peter, however, by wanting to keep the transfigured Jesus in a shelter, has completely misunderstood the meaning of the transfiguration.
The story of the transfiguration comes in Chapter 9 of Mark’s Gospel. This is at the half-way point of the gospel and marks the transition from Jesus’s early ministry to his journey to Jerusalem, his death and resurrection. From this point in Mark’s gospel Jesus is travelling to Jerusalem and his inevitable death on the cross.
The transfiguration is Jesus showing his most trusted disciples his true nature as part of the Godhead. He then tells them not to tell anyone what they have seen until after ‘the Son of Man is risen from the dead’. The disciples do not understand what this means and later in the same chapter when Jesus again foretells his death, the disciples again fail to understand.
Peter wants to preserve Jesus in his glory but, along with the other disciples, does not understand Jesus’ predictions of his suffering and death. This is not how things were meant to turn out. How can someone who has revealed himself as divine, someone who claims to be the Messiah, now be speaking of his physical suffering and death?
This is a turning point in Mark’s gospel, and it takes the disciples the whole of the rest of the gospel to understand what it is that Jesus is telling them.
We too are standing at a turning point, both in terms of the church year and also in what is happening in our collective lives.
Having just celebrated the end of the Epiphany season, next week we enter Lent and for forty days we travel to the cross with Jesus. We are also, it seems, at a turning point in the fight against the Coronavirus, as more and more people receive the vaccine and politicians begin to speak tentatively about a ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown.
We have been celebrating Jesus as the light of the world, and now through Lent we will see him as the suffering servant. Before we do, however, today we are reminded of Jesus’ glory and majesty. For Jesus is both things. He is both part of the divine Godhead, and also the one who has to suffer and die for our sakes. This is the point on which our faith pivots. God, who is pure divinity, becoming fully human so that he may take on himself all of our pain, all of our brokenness, all of our wilful wrongdoing.
Jesus in his glory cannot be contained in any shelter that Peter could construct. He has to go through his passion and resurrection on our behalf and because of that he becomes the universal Christ – the glory and majesty of God that cannot be contained. His mercy, justice and peace is now out in the world and cannot be limited.
So, why do we, so often, try and contain Christ? Why do we try and limit what God, through Christ, can do? At times, we want to keep him at a distance, keep him only for Sundays. We fail to see him in the faces of others, particularly those who are different from us. We shy away from talking about him out of embarrassment or fear of ridicule.
Would we, like Peter, prefer a contained Jesus, safely in his shelter and not really bothering us. However, as Peter learns this is not how it works. For Peter, the disciple, who so often gets it wrong, on the day of Pentecost, is transformed into one of the first great Apostles, telling the good news of Jesus Christ and dying for his faith.
This Lent, in whatever way we can, let us consider how we can open ourselves up more to the call of Jesus to follow him. We don’t have to make grand gestures or change our lives dramatically, but we do have to pay attention to our attitudes and behaviour towards others, to the way we live, and how we might show in these two things the limitless mercy, grace, and love of God, shown to us in Jesus Christ.
This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, and we will be holding Morning Prayer at 9.30 am and a service at 2.00 pm. We will be running a Lent Course which will take place at 10.30 am each Monday in Lent, beginning on Monday 22nd February. If there are any of you who would prefer an evening for the Lent course please let either myself or Georgina know and, if we have enough people, we will run the course on Monday evenings.
All these events will be happening via Zoom and you will be sent the invitations well in advance.