“This,” says Peter from atop the Mount of Transfiguration, “this is more like it! This is what I signed on for. Magic! Miracles! Bright lights! Special effects! Who needs Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The new trinity needs to belights, action, camera. Life with Jesus is gonna be a rocky mountain high after all! Jesus, I just knew you didn’t mean it the other day when you chewed me out and said “Get thee behind me Satan.” See, Jesus, I was right: You are the Messiah Triumphant – and this proves you definitely have what it takes to be victorious over all our enemies! And more!! Talk about the Wow!!!! Factor: Moses and Elijah here to anoint you and this! this! you shining like the sun. Iwas right the other day – there’s not going to be any cross for you. The forces of those other people will not have their way with you – or more importantly, with us. And with Moses and Elijah on our side, you will indeed lead us to victory – and at last we who have had it right all along will justly reign supreme.”
And so Peter – like Moses, who in the name of the God revealed to him upon a mountaintop, commanded the people to build a tabernacle for God to live in, a tabernacle with handles to tote God around in so that the people could keep God in their controllable presence – Peter like Moses, in order to contain the divine, to preserve the glory-glory-hallelujah, desires to build, to build tabernacles, shrines, cathedrals, basilicas – Peter desires to build – lastingmonuments to power, might, and triumph, desires to erect on the lawns of every courthouse in the land great granite monuments to remind the people of the most-masculine-god who is forever waiting for the slightest slip-up so that the least of the transgressors be blasted to bits. And so Peter, on the Mount of Transfiguration declares, “Oh yeah, this is what we wanted all along! It’s so good to be here, Lord. And we’re here because we’re so good, the special ones, the chosen ones, the truly spiritual ones of the twelve disciples – right Lord? Right? ”
But then – The. Voice. At first – The Voice is exactly in line with our wants and desires. This Jesus is the One from God. The Beloved. “Yes, we knew it all along. I was right!” Peter exclaims. But the uncontrollable voice won’t stop there. “Listen to him.” And with that – Peter become petrified. Peter actually did listen Jesus the other day – but had thought it all the result of frustration and fatigue on the part of Jesus, too much time spent out in the sun, dehydration, a bit of bad food perhaps – did hear what Jesus had kept on saying – that he, Jesus, Messiah, must go to Jerusalem and there must undergo great suffering at the hands of the religious leaders, and be killed. But Peter had had enough of such talk. “Let’s Eliminate Negative Thinking, and we’ll call it LENT for short,” he’d thought, and so, “God forbid it Master!” he’d exclaimed. But Jesus, instead of being grateful for Peter’s defense of him had turned on Peter and had snarled, “Get behind me, you hellish being! You are a stumbling block to me; for you have your mind set on human things – power, vengeance, triumph, glory, wealth, success – but not the things of God.” And now this – the voice of God – it had to be – speaking from the mountaintop – the place from where God had spoken to Moses and to Elijah . . . . . “Listen to this One – my Beloved in whom I am continually well-pleased.” And so Peter and James and John upon that rocky mount were crushed – perhaps it was true – as Jesus had said, “If any of you desire to become my followers, you will turn away from your concerned-with-your-self selves – and you will take up the cross – you will die to self and to the culture that claims power and might are divine – you will die to the culture that says getting even is good – you will die to the culture that says, ‘we’re number one, deservedly so, damn it, and we’re going to fight to stay there.’” And with sinking, trembling hearts, Peter and the Boyz fall to their knees. The voice of the God of Moses and Elijah and of Jesus too has spoken. The true glory of God will be not be seen it seems in pretty, gold-filigree crosses, nor in Hyde Park Jewelry’s tastefully designed Easter Cross, appropriately accented with the diamond of your choosing, starting at a mere $650.00 or so. Rather, as Martin Luther asserts in his Heidelberg Disputation the true glory of God can only be seen through the humiliation and shame of a rough and bloody cross, through the scandal of God’s body broken and God’s blood poured out. Oh, yes, there will be a resurrection on the third day, Jesus has said – but it will be just one more display of the glory that the religious self seeks if it is not forever and indissolubly yoked to God speaking from another mount – the mount of suffering and death. No – from now on, if you wish to see God, if you wish to know God’s will – do not look to some tabernacle or building – do not consult some book of rules – nor will God dwell in some pledge of trust imprinted upon your money nor in any pledge to any flag of any nation. Look to Calvary and Christ upon the cross. There is God’s finest hour – in the God who suffering says, “It is finished – my self-revelation complete. I will not lift a hand my hand in might against you. I will not favor any particular tribe or nation over another (Are you listening Mr. Putin. As if . . . ). And my proclamation to all who kill me in the most mundane of daily lives – my finished and final word: forgiveness. Today you are with me in Paradise.”
But none of this is soothing to those three who hear it upon the Mount of Transfiguration – rather the terror of the three disciples mounts exponentially now upon this soon-to-be deserted mount of glory as their futures pass before their stunned eyes. And they now know they too shall die, the agony of the cross will be theirs. In one way or another, they too shall come to that final breath where everything that has gone before will be nothing – will not save them – and they too will be filled with terror. But even in the midst of this horrifying vision of the future, Jesus, with the walk of death soon to be his own, Jesus comes and touches – touches and speaks again – the voice of Jesus, the same voice that was in the beginning and whose breath exploded the cosmos into being – the voice of Jesus: “Be raised up. And do not be afraid.” And then they in spite of themselves rise from the vision of their death and with Jesus walk the way of God – down the mountain on their way to another, differently transfiguring, rocky mountain and into the midst of the rabble and the riff-raff – there to be with the least and the last and the lost and the most unlovely and unlovable, to be in their midst, and with healing touch, to proclaim the scandal of the God of infinite mercy and unconditional love. And yes, it is true, some of these same ones who were touched by Christ will cry out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” But even that shall be forgiven too.
Back to 2014. On the third day after today, those who assemble in this place on Ash Wednesday will once again hear the voice of God that says: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. All of your striving and your getting and your having, your Mercedes, your diamonds, your high-end watches – these will not save you. One day every memory of you and all your deeds will have disappeared, and even your tombstone shall have returned to dust.” But here too on Ash Wednesday will be Jesus – to touch us – even as Jesus touches us today – Jesus will touch us and say: “You who have the mark of death upon your foreheads, have no fear. Look to the cross and see that I am with you all the way through your last breath; know by the death-encrusted cross, that in Baptism you have already died with me, and on the third day with me, you are already risen from the dead. Have no fear, for I am with you.”
And the Voice keeps on saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well-pleased to be. Listen to him!” And we keep on seeing Him too – transfigured in, with, under bread and wine, true God from true God.
Is it nothing to all ye who pass by?