Six days later. Six long days later. Six of the longest days of Peter’s life. Almost a full week with Jesus’ words ringing in his ears: “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me.”
Everything had been going so well. The week before, Jesus had taken Peter and the disciples up north, to the outskirts of the Roman city of Caesarea Philippi. There, overlooking the enemy city, overlooking the soldiers’ barracks, he had asked his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” And it was Peter who had responded, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus had been pleased, he had praised Peter for his response, and he had chosen Peter as his leader, the rock on whom he would build his church. Peter was honoured and thrilled and determined to take his role seriously.
So when Jesus turned away from the Roman enemy at Caesarea Philippi to go to Jerusalem, when Jesus began to teach his disciples that he must undergo great suffering at the hands of the Jewish authorities, that he would be arrested and put to death, and on the third day be raised, Peter objected. Peter wouldn’t listen to Jesus. He had a different understanding of what it means to be the Messiah and so he pulls Jesus aside, and begins to rebuke him, saying this must never happen to you.
And that’s when Jesus lets him have it. He turns to Peter says to him, “Get behind me Satan. You are a stumbling block to me.” Strong language.
Have you ever screwed up? Tried your best but failed? Tried to understand something but just not get it? Been chewed out? If so, then maybe you can relate to Peter, maybe you can relate to where Peter was at that very moment and how difficult the next six days must have been. Confused, angry, remorseful, bitter, dejected – all of the above?
Six days later, Jesus takes Peter, and James and John with him and leads them up a high mountain. I don’t imagine he gave them much of an explanation why, after all, what explanation could you possibly give for what was about to unfold.
On the mountain top, Jesus was transfigured before them, his face shining like the sun and his clothes becoming dazzling white. And there appeared with him Moses and Elijah, talking to him. It is an awesome moment, a moment of transcendence, a once in a lifetime experience for Peter. And so Peter gets excited, and he starts talking, he starts talking about making three dwellings, one for each of them, he wants to capture the moment somehow. But then a bright cloud overshadows them, and a voice from the cloud says, “This is My Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased.”
And then, continues the voice: “Listen to him!”
But Peter had refused to listen to Jesus, in fact he had argued with him, had rebuked him.
“Listen to him!” The last words Jesus had said to Peter were “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me.”
“Listen to him!”
Peter collapses, falls to the ground, overcome by fear.
Have you been there? Afraid? Overcome? Overwhelmed? Knowing you’ve screwed up, feeling like a failure? If you have, then I want you to pay close attention to what happens next.
Peter is lying on the ground like a corpse, as good as dead. But Jesus comes to him and touches him, and says, “get up.”
“Get up.” “Be raised up”. This is resurrection language. These are the same words which will be used at Easter when God raises Jesus from the dead. Get up.
No matter how bad it gets, Jesus cares about us and Jesus has the power to raise us up. To give us new life. And so we don’t have to be afraid. Get up and do not be afraid.
Jesus called Peter to be the rock on whom he would build his church. Peter screwed up royally on his first day on the job. He fully expected to be fired, or worse. But that’s not how God works. Even in our weakest moments, even in our moments of failure, God will raise us up to do the things he has called us to do.
For Peter, the transfiguration of Jesus was a life-changing event. In our new testament reading from the letter that bears Peter’s name we hear how as an old man, Peter looked back to that mountain top experience as the pivotal event that confirmed his faith in Jesus as Lord. Did he look back to that vision of Jesus with Moses and Elijah, his face shining like the sun, his clothing dazzling white? I’m sure he did. Sometimes we can really use the occasional glimpse of glory on the mountain top to encourage and inspire us as we slog our way through everyday life in the valley. We long for moments of transcendence, those moments when we get a glimpse of God.
But I also believe that Peter looked back to the transfiguration as the day when he was lost but then found. The day when he was dead but then raised to new life. The day that he was down and overwhelmed by fear, but then Jesus came to him, touched him and said “Get up, and don’t be afraid.”
And it’s the same for each one of us. Jesus doesn’t just call the best and the brightest to be his disciples. He calls us. He calls us with our strengths and our weaknesses, with our hopes and our fears, with our insights and our misunderstandings. He calls us as we are, and when we screw up, and we will, he will come to us, and gently touch us and say “Get up, and don’t be afraid.” For he has the power to raise us up.
Homily: Yr A Transfiguration, Feb 26 2017, St. Albans
Readings: Exodus 24.12-18; Ps 99; 2 Pet 1.16-21, Mt 17.1-9
Image by Raimond Klavens