I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living.
Romans 8: 31-34 God did not spare his own son.
Mark 9: 2-10 This is my son the Beloved, listen to him.
Our gospel episode today gives us many avenues for our reflection. It’s an episode that is appears in similar form in both Matthew and Luke. We can take from this that the story was a very significant one for the first believers. Just what it meant to them all we can only guess.
Perhaps it was a story that affirmed the early Church’s faith in the divinity of Jesus. Perhaps too for the early Christians, the story expresses just what a deep encounter with God felt like. The story could have been used to encourage the early believers to search deep in their hearts what their faith in the risen Jesus really meant in a world when they often faced persecution because of their new faith.
We can ourselves, take something very personal and worthwhile from the encounter Jesus and the disciples have with the Father.
In the presence of Moses and Elijah we have two of the great figures of the Old Testament, both of whom showed great faithfulness in their service of God and both of whom suffered because of their faithfulness.
Just as the early Christians were called to be faithful in the face of difficulties and persecution, so we too have our own difficulties in believing in a society which often regards religion and faith with ridicule.
Our faith can suffer challenges in times of deep personal sadness, times of family breakdown or conflict, times of grief and loss. Our faith is often challenged by the materialism that is so attractive, seductive and which provides such a convenient escape for us when life’s big questions get too much.
Some Christians as we gather here are facing outright persecution for their faith, in Libya, Syria and Iraq, just to name three places.
We may not be facing such overt, deadly forms of persecution, but every day our faith is challenged by those who would have us believe that more and more possessions, property, wealth are our path to happiness and “success”, whatever that is.
Moses’ and Elijah’s faithfulness and their ability to suffer for the sake of their relationship with God, point to Jesus who in his turn shows us his faithfulness to the Father’s plan for him, no matter what suffering may come his way as a result.
He was so faithful, that not even his death on the Cross could prevent his life from bearing fruit that lasts even into our own time and lives.
Jesus, in his faithful seeking and choosing the Father’s Will for him, becomes our pattern. This pattern is something the early Christians held on to in their times of trial. It is our pattern too when our faith is challenged, when our hearts are disturbed, when our steps falter.
This pattern that Jesus gives us only makes sense when it is grounded in great love, and this is one more gift we can receive from our meditation on today’s gospel story.
Peter seems overwhelmed in the presence of the love between Jesus and the Father. He blurts out something clumsy about building tents and setting up a shrine to mark the occasion, seemingly in order to cover his embarrassment or his inadequacy in the presence of such great love.
When we are in the presence of someone we love deeply, words are sometimes helpful in expressing that love. As often as not, our words feel inadequate, and like Peter we stumble around looking for the words to express something that is too deep for words. A look, a touch, a silent embrace or a silent space will often express this love so much better than any words.
When our love for God is deeply at the heart of who we are, like Peter and the disciples, we may now and then experience this love as being too deep for words.
It is from this deep love, this deep, wordless knowing, that our faithfulness, even in the face of great trials, can be born. It is this love alone that provides the resources we need to live faithfully in a world which is so easily captured by the lure of power, prestige and possessions.
We climb the mountain with Jesus, Peter, James and John today in order to taste this love for ourselves. We then come down from the mountain, and following Jesus’ instructions, we don’t go around talking about what we’ve found there, but rather, we breathe that wordless gift of love into every relationship from the most important to the most transient.
Then, everyone who meets us, from the ones we love best, through to the person working the checkout as we shop, might get to glimpse as Peter does, the presence of this love beyond words, which is our deepest nourishment and joy, and our gift in a world where the things of selfishness and death, against all the odds, no longer need to have the last word.