As [Moses and Elijah] were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." But he did not know what he was saying.
- Luke 9:33
Perhaps, had we been there with Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration, once we shook ourselves fully awake to bear witness to God's glory, we would likewise have been tempted to set up camp. It's hard not to love the mountaintop.
When I go to the mountaintop, I feel my doubts melt away. I feel the presence of God so tangibly. I know in my bones that God is good and that, however much worldly woes might seek to dissuade me, all shall be well. All I want to do when I'm there is set up a tent and move in.
The Jewish Feast of Booths or Sukkot -- to which Peter's tent building likely refers -- is a commemoration of the provision of God for the people of Israel as they wandered forty years in the desert. It is also a harvest festival, a celebration of the time for reaping what had been sown.
Maybe Peter believed that they had arrived at the harvest, here, on this mountain. Jesus talks about the harvest (e.g., especially, John 4) as a way of pointing to the appointed time for God's fulfillment of God's plan. Peter sees the radiance of God's glory in Jesus transfigured and believes that they are home at last.
It is not insignificant that a few verses early in the ninth chapter of Luke Peter has affirmed his understanding of Jesus as Messiah. In Matthew's gospel (chapter 16), immediately following Peter's declaration, that same Peter roundly rejects the idea that the Messiah "must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised" (v. 21). Although Jesus rebukes him in the strongest terms ("Get behind me, Satan!" v. 23), perhaps Peter is still determined that the fulfillment can happen on the mountaintop.
That's what I want too. When I'm riding high up on the mountaintop, I want to stay. I want to believe that, at last, all of my problems will be solved, that I can be forever peaceful and carefree.
But I, like Peter, do not know what I'm saying. There is only one road to ultimate freedom, and it leads through death. I don't want to hear it. I don't want to think about it. Like Peter, I want to say to the Master, "God forbid it, Lord. This must never happen to you!" (Matthew 16:22), by which I also mean, this must never happen to me.
For Entering In...
- Spend a few moments becoming present to yourself. If your mind is preoccupied, allow the thoughts to come and to go. Notice what you feel in your body, in your heart.
- Invite God to be present with you.
- Reflect on these questions:
- Have you had a mountaintop experience where you wanted to remain? Close your eyes, take your time, and really remember what that felt like.
- Have there been times in your life when you have been faced with a truth ("[The] Messiah must...undergo great suffering...") that you didn't want to confront? What was that like for you?
- Have you experienced a significant death or deaths in your life? Are you ever willing to pause and consider your own mortality?
- This season of Lent can be a time of reckoning with our own mortality. The Christian creeds include the confession that death is not the end of our existence. What are your beliefs about death and mortality or immortality?
- In "The Weight of Glory", C.S. Lewis says something about immortality that is worth quoting at length:
"It is a serious thing to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship [like Jesus in his transfigured state], or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations...There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal...[It] is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit -- immortal horrors or everlasting splendors."
What does this passage say to you about immortality -- yours and others'?
- As you finish this quiet time, take a moment to connect with your soul and with the God who dwells there. Rejoice in God's intention for you to be reborn as an everlasting splendor.