Today we celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration – Mark tells us of that extraordinary event – Jesus taking his favorite three apostles up the mountain and allowing them a glimpse of His glory – they must have been stunned as they saw Jesus transfigured before their eyes – they saw Jesus as they never saw Him before – they were gifted with a deep insight into Jesus and His oneness with the past – Moses and Elijah representing the Law and the Prophets of which He was the fulfillment – and His relationship with God – this is My Son, the beloved, listen to Him. As Peter recounts it – we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. No wonder Peter blurted out – Lord is it good for us to be here.
In modern terminology Peter, James and John had a ‘religious experience’ – a graced moment in which they came to understand Jesus in a whole new way. Maybe you’ve been blessed with such graced moments – a time when, out of nowhere you sensed how blessed you are by God with health, with family, with faith – or maybe in that blessed moment you knew your sins were truly forgiven and forgotten – maybe in that blessed moment you were given a sense of God’s presence to you – or a sense of what direction your life should take. Such blessed moments come in an instant and are gone in an instant – but in that moment you may have echoed the words of Peter – it is good to be here.
Such moments, such graces are usually given to people to prepare or strengthen them for some future challenge or struggle. I like to think that Martin Luther King’s statement “I’ve been to the mountain, I’ve seen the other side” was such a graced moment, strengthening him to carry on his struggle for human rights, a struggle that cost him his life.
That graced moment on the mountain was meant to prepare Peter, James and John for that time when Jesus would invite them, not up a mountain of glory but into a garden of agony. These were the three who went with Jesus into Gethsemane and in that dark place they saw another side of Jesus – a frightened man pleading for his life – if it is possible let this cup, this ordeal pass me by.
If you remember the Matthew’s gospel account of what we call the ‘agony in the garden’ no one said ‘Lord it is good for us to be here”. Peter, James and John avoided the painful prayer of Jesus by sleeping – they could not watch one hour with him. Jesus was there for them, they were not there for Him. As on the mountain of the transfiguration so in the garden of Gethsemane Jesus was still the Son in Whom the Father was well pleased – for Jesus, it was the Father’s will not His own that was to be done.
Coming down from that mountain Peter, James and John were still dazzled by their experience – but reading on in Mark’s gospel we are told that the first person Jesus met was a distraught father whose son was possessed by a spirit of dumbness from childhood – he begged Jesus to cure his son – and of course He did.
So in a very short period of time Peter, James and John went from a moment of glory right back to the reality of human suffering and need. I think this is the message of today’s gospel – we may have our moments of grace when we know the closeness of God, the love and mercy of God – these moments give us the faith and courage to face harsher realities of life – but most of our lives are in the season the church calls ordinary – the common time of common living when we live through the normal joys and sorrows of life – times when we are called to be there for others – family, friends and strangers – times when we are in need of the support and understanding of others. And then there are times when we are called to enter our own Gethsemanes – times of illness, the loss of a job, the falling out of friendship, the end of a marriage, the death of one we love – in such times we cannot say, Lord it is good for us to be here – hopefully we are graced to say, not my will but Your will be done.
No matter what the reality of our lives – the glory of the mountain, the season of common time or the darkness of our own Gethsemane – Christ is with us – transfigured, healing or supporting – in all these circumstances we trust the promise of Christ – my grace, my presence, my love, my support is sufficient for you. We are never alone.