You can listen to my sermon on the Christ Church website, or read it below
It had been almost a week since that awkward encounter. Jesus had probably long since forgiven Peter for it, but if Peter is anything like me, he had spent the last six days working those few minutes over in his mind again and again and again. Six days ago, Jesus and his disciples were on the outskirts of Caesarea Philippi, a city on the coast of the Mediterranean that was 100% Roman: where Herod had built a Temple in honor of Caesar, and after his death, Philip the Tetrarch gave it the name Caesarea – Caesar Town. There, in the shadow of an entire city built to honor the power of Rome, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”
You can almost see them trying to avoid answering the question. Like a classroom full of Middle Schoolers, no one wanted to make eye contact with Jesus. Somebody muttered John the Baptist, which was a ridiculous answer. John hadn’t even been dead a year; how could Jesus be John the Baptist. Another person piped up, “Elijah,” which seemed more sensible. Elijah was the one who was to return and prepare the way for the Messiah. Another voice suggested “Jeremiah or some other prophet,” which was, again, not totally unreasonable. Jesus pressed further. With the Temple Complex of Caesar and Pan rising in the background, Jesus asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter, God love him, couldn’t contain himself. He knew the right answer and wanted Jesus to know he knew it too. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” Peter blurted out, without a care in the world as to where he was standing or who might hear him. It just so happens that Caesar also carried the title “Son of God,” but that didn’t matter to Peter. Jesus was the Son of the true God. Jesus was the one who had been sent to rid Israel of their Roman occupiers. Jesus was the one who would raise up an army, tear down the Temples built to pagan gods, and return the throne of David to its rightful place. Jesus was here to rule with power and might, and Peter was ready to fight.
Jesus praised Peter for his forthrightness. “Blessed are you, Simon… For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in Heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church… I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven…” Peter was riding high, but Jesus continued to speak, telling the whole group that the Messiah wasn’t going to be about power and might; that the Messiah wouldn’t be raising up an army; but that the Messiah, he, Jesus, their Rabbi and friend, would be going to Jerusalem where he would suffer at the hand of the religious leadership, and be killed, and, mind you, on the third day rise again.
“God forbit it, Lord!” Again, Peter bowed up and blurted words out before he could even think. This wasn’t right, it wasn’t how it was supposed to work. Peter hadn’t left his wife and career to traipse around the Sinai Peninsula for years only to watch Jesus be killed, and so Peter balked. He looked right in the face of Jesus and said, “No!” And Jesus looked right back at him and said, “Get behind me, Satan!” Talk about awkward. The discernment that Peter had just done so well was flung right out the window. From “my Father in Heaven revealed this to you” to “you have set your mind not on divine things but on human things” in the course of about 90 seconds. The rest of the disciples went back to staring at theirs shoes, and for six days, it seems, nobody made mention of “the event.” Then suddenly, Jesus looked back at Peter and along with James and John, invited him on an afternoon hike up Mount Tabor.
Six days is a long time to stew on something. I wonder just how down in the dumps Peter was feeling as they made the slow climb? What did he expect when they arrived at the top? Were James and John invited as witnesses for his further rebuke? Was it a regularly scheduled prayer day? Whatever Peter might have guessed was going to happen that day, the Transfiguration wasn’t it. As Jesus’ face shone with the brightness of the sun and his clothes reflected a dazzling white, Peter again found himself speaking faster than his brain could work. “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three tents…” While the words were still making their way out of his mouth, a cloud enveloped them and a voice from heaven spoke to them, and Peter joined James and John in fear and trembling. Six days of uncomfortable silence. Six days of avoiding Jesus’ passing glance. Six days of wondering if he had pushed past the point of no return, and now Peter was in the midst of a vision of God atop a holy mountain, and all he could do was sputter and stammer and kneel down in fear and trepidation.
Note what happens next. God doesn’t rebuke Peter. Jesus doesn’t call him out. The Holy Spirit doesn’t smite him on the spot. Instead, Jesus walked over to the three of them, touched them and said, “Get up and do not be afraid.” Well, that’s not exactly what Jesus said to them. In the Greek, what Jesus really said as his reached out in loving care to his three scared-to-death disciples was, “be raised, and fear not.” The word translated as “get up” in the NRSV is the same word the angel will later use to describe what happened to Jesus on Easter morning. “He is not here, he has been raised.” In the depth of his despair, after nearly a week of anxiety, stress, and dis-ease, there on that mountain top, Peter was still talking faster than he could think, but it was precisely in that moment that Jesus gave Peter his own moment of resurrection.
As the Season of Epiphany comes to a close and we prepare ourselves for Lent, the story of the Transfiguration serves as something of a bridge. Starting Wednesday and for forty days, we will purposefully spend time paying close attention to our tendency toward sin. We will be invited to take stock of the ways in which our wills are at odds with the will of God. Marked with an ashen cross, we will be made keenly aware of our mortality and dependence upon God. Some of us will fast, giving something up that distracts us from the dream of God. Others will take something on, finding a new prayer practices, devotions, or scriptural readings that are meant to open our eyes, ears, and hearts to God. No matter how you plan to spend your Lent, I pray that you will have a Peter experience, and I mean both sides. I pray that at some point in Lent, either in your private prayers or on Sunday morning, you have a profound awareness of the sin that has separated you from God. I’m not asking you to spend six days in that place, but maybe six minutes. Feel the pain, the fear, and the awkwardness of knowing that sometimes your best intentions aren’t a part of God’s plan and then be ready to feel God’s hand upon your shoulder. Listen for Jesus as he offers you a resurrection moment. “Be raised, and fear not” for God loves you, forgives you, and wants to build the Kingdom of Heaven with your help. Amen.
If, somewhere in the next eight weeks, you can find your way there: from the depths of your sinfulness to the heights of your resurrection moment, you will have been blessed to have the glory of God revealed to you. In Hebrew, the word for glory means “weight” or “heaviness.” By the grace of God, what starts as the weight of our sin is transformed into the weight of Christ’s hand upon your shoulder, inviting you to be raised and fear not. My prayer for you this Lent is that you feel the weight of God’s glory so that you can join with Jesus on Resurrection Day. Amen.
 Elizabeth Palmer, “Sunday’s Coming” Christian Century Email 20 Feb 2017.