Exodus 34.29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3.12-4.2; Luke 9.28-43a
The face of Jesus changes, his clothes are dazzling white. This change in appearance - similar to what we heard about the changes in Moses’ appearance, affirm Gods’ presence with Jesus. If that weren’t enough, a cloud,reminiscent of God’s presence in the exodus story, comes and from it we hear God’s voice, echoing where this season of Epiphany began (Jesus baptism), saying “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
In the midst of this story, where it seems all attention should be on Jesus, Moses and Elijah, I find my attention drawn somewhere else. I find that my attention is on Peter and the disciples.
It is tempting, upon reading this story, to marvel at how a man who was present for the transfiguration could possibly deny Jesus on the night before his crucifixion, as Peter does. He has seen something that almost no one else had ever seen, or has seen since.
And yet I find myself right at Peter’s side, at a fire in the courtyard the night Jesus is arrested, so long after Peter’s experience with the dazzling white clothes of Jesus. The only light a few pieces of kindling. The contrast is stark. How long ago was that blinding mountaintop experience? Extreme experiences, good or bad, can leave any person wondering later if it really happened - was it just a dream?
I find myself at Peter’s side because as amazing as the transfiguration is, the journey Peter has been on with Jesus and the rest of the disciples has been nothing but an extreme roller coaster ride.
A few verses before this, Peter has had an epiphany moment, he has finally understood that Jesus is the Messiah. This is followed by Jesus telling them for the first time that he must suffer and die. Then the transfiguration. Then the disciples go down the mountain and utterly fail to heal someone. Up and down, up and down. The journey with Jesus includes dire predictions AND then amazing healings. Jesus getting into more and more trouble with the religious leaders AND then parables of a joyful kingdom that is on its way. Up and down, up and down.
I find myself at Peter’s side because his story is our story. We too have amazing mountaintop experiences - where God is brilliant and clear and profound. And in these moments, we may be deeply changed, transformed even, but we are not left frozen in that moment in time. The drama and adrenaline and excitement of that moment fades. We return to the routine of everyday life, we still ask questions, and we still doubt, and we still sin, just like Peter.
Just like Peter, we aren’t perfect. But isn’t it amazing how that doesn’t seem to matter to Jesus. The twelve disciples named and chosen by Jesus certainly weren’t required to ‘get it’ - they frequently didn’t – and frequently we don’t either. They weren’t required to be perfect and neither are we. The saying ‘perfect is the enemy of good’ isn’t from the Bible, but perhaps it could be.
We are taught through the disciples that a life with Jesus, then or now, is full of struggle and mistakes. We may find ourselves right next to Peter, struggling to understand, right next to Thomas, asking difficult questions, or even right next to Judas, betraying Jesus in our words and actions.
But have you noticed that even though Jesus gets a little frustrated with them, even though he gets downright sassy with them (you faithless and perverse generation), even though he knows what they will do to hurt him, no one gets kicked out by Jesus, no one is sent away, no one has their discipleship revoked. While he emotions may flare up here and there, he is infinitely patient with his followers.
And through the way Jesus treats them, they are empowered to never stop trying. These guys are all in. With the ups and the downs, the danger and the mountaintop experiences, they keep moving forward. Perhaps Jesus chose them because they already had this quality, but I’d like to think that this tenacity and dedication in them developed from the type of relationship Jesus built with them.
So in the end, yes, we will meet God in the extreme experiences: both the mountain highs and the valley lows. But we will also meet God in the everyday - the plateaus and prairies, the drive to work and the tenth load of laundry. We will find God in all these places because of one little word. WITH.
The season of Epiphany comes right after Christmas. Emmanuel, which means ‘God WITH us,’ has arrived. So all of these stories that have shown us who Jesus is, are unpacking one very simple but deeply profound word: WITH.
As we move every closer to Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent, the joy of ‘Christ with us’ at Christmas begins to shift to the complexities of ‘Christ with us’ during Holy Week. Through the ups and downs of that week, through the ups and downs of our lives, we are led into faithfulness because God is not just with us in the highest highs or the lowest lows, God is with us always, leading us to higher mountaintops than we’ve already experienced, higher mountaintops that we can even imagine.