And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,  and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.  And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.  And Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah."  For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified.  And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him."  And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
 And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. Mark 9:2-9 (ESV)
It is verse 9 that sort of grabs my attention every time I read this passage about the Transfiguration. Jesus only took his most trusted disciples, the inner circle of the twelve, his closest confidents. Seeing Jesus in the fullness of his glory was not something for all to see, nor even hear about. At least not until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. And it hits you between the eyes. Everything is down hill from here, the course has been set. Jesus walks to His death.
Peter wanted to stay, build a few tents, hang out and talk with Moses, Elijah and Jesus. That we could hear the conversation going on between those three, the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospel that was to fulfill both on our behalf. I think I might have wanted to stay there too.
We always want to stay on the mountaintops. Mountaintops are exhilarating, the views, the thin clean air, and the endorphins kicking in from the hike up. Undoubtedly Peter thought this was the climax. This was it. Here he had been studying, walking, learning from Jesus for a couple years. Just last week he confessed that Jesus was the Christ, only to be dismayed at hearing of Christ’s death. Now Jesus is showing Himself. Revealing Himself for who He truly is to these three, John, James, and Peter. Peter still isn’t so sure of this death bit. Why should they have to go back down into the valley? Why should Jesus have to go to the cross? Why can’t they just stay up here on the mountain, everything can be taken care of. Let the world and its troubles go. Let’s just stay up here.
Of course it is like that for us Christians too. We come to worship, we get away from the world. The organ playing classical meter drowns out the tunes accompanying the worries of the world that play back in your head as you commute to and fro. Ballads recounting Christ’s victory on the cross roll off your tongue. Forgiveness washes over you in the invocation. The Holy Spirit broods over your soul as the word of God is read. The sermon slays the Old Adam with the law, and quickens the new man with the gospel, and for good measure your soul is sustained for another weak as you feast on forgiveness in the Body and Blood of Christ. Perhaps it doesn’t happen every week but often enough the peace of God that surpasses all understanding exerts a calm in your soul. And you could just stay in God’s house forever. But the world calls, and God sends you out on your way back down to the valley, the toil and labor of everyday life, back to your walk to the grave in this desert of death.
I mean that is it. Peter knows all to well now where Christ is going, and where Christ goes he goes, but he doesn’t have to like it. Peter wants to stay here. Why go to Jerusalem? Why go to the Cross? Here it is, everything he is looking for, heaven on earth. But Jesus knows it isn’t. Not quite. This is but a foretaste. Jesus has come to regroup. He may be God, but he is also man. He needs to be strengthened for this journey, reminded of what it is about, have his resolve renewed. The next week or two are going to be tough. He is facing death. He is going to die. And why? For who? For you, for me, and a world filled with other ingrates, so stuck on themselves they think they can earn their way to heaven, and don’t need the cross. People who think they do just fine without Christ. Forgiveness? Forgiveness for what? Given the circumstances we think Jesus would understand the sins we commit. We think He might have even done the same. I mean what else were we going to do? We just trying to get by in this life. Ah but that is just it. Jesus would not have. He didn’t come here to live, not for us. He came to die, to die for us. So He doesn’t understand, He forgives.
Most people don’t understand that. They don’t understand just how in need of forgiveness they are. Given the choice between penance and forgiveness we take penance. Problem is as much as we think we have that choice we don’t. Penance is the avoidance of forgiveness. It is sin in itself. Trying to make up for past sins. We can’t do it. We can’t pay Christ back for his blood, the life that poured out of him on the cross, so that he could pour it into us at the altar on Sunday morning. We can’t pay him back for it. Penance is a myth that keeps our Old Adam alive with hope, hope that we can retain our pride, and self respect. Our pride and self respect, they come between us and God. Come between the sinner and forgiveness. And Peter thinks he is worthy to stay.
But he has this glimpse of heaven this foretaste of the kingdom of God, he has it confused with heaven. We can’t stay. We have to go back. Our crosses wait for us in this world, just as Christ’s cross waited for Him in Jerusalem. We were buried with Christ in Baptism to be raised to new life in Him. But now we live that new life here in this world. No longer living for ourselves, but for Christ who died that we might live. And living for Christ, we live for others. And the others are out there. They are waiting for us. Just as they waited for Christ, hammer and nails in hand. They crucified our Lord, do you expect better?
Yes, but not from the world. The world will go on as it always has, down the highway to hell carried in a hand basket. But when we die to the world, we live in Christ. And because of His death. Because He didn’t listen to Peter, but once again forsook the Mountaintop and picked up his Cross for us, we will have better. For here we have a foretaste, but the feast is yet to come. It waits. It waits for you on the other side of the cross.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.