Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Behind the altar in our church are three stained glass windows. Unlike many churches, we don't have a central window that features Jesus. Our large window represents our patron saint, St. John. I like to joke that we at St. John's think so highly of ourselves that we'd rather put our own face up there than Jesus'. Once you recognize who is portrayed in the other two windows, however, it all makes sense. Accompanying John are the other two disciples from Sunday's gospel lesson (Luke 9:28-36): Peter and James.
Peter, James, and John. Those three represent Jesus' inner-inner circle. Among the disciples, they are the three whom Jesus takes with him up on the mountain to pray. They are the only ones who see his appearance transfigured. They are the ones who recognize Moses and Elijah and hear the Father's voice. And, as they come back down the mountain, they are told to keep these things to themselves. They were entrusted with a fuller revelation of Jesus' glory and were trusted to keep it quiet until the time was right.
No one can know why these three were chosen. Peter, of course, is known as the first among equals--the primary disciple upon whom Jesus builds the church. It makes sense that he would be there. James and John were brothers. In the synoptic tradition, they were called into discipleship shortly after Peter and his brother Andrew, which suggests that these four are particularly important to the early Christian tradition. Then why isn't Andrew invited along? I'm not sure, but there's something about these three that helps this moment happen.
The line in this passage that catches my attention this morning is the narrator's description of the three disciples during the transfiguration event: "Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him." They were tired. So often, the disciples were tired. Jesus was a "prayer warrior," able to keep long hours in communication with his father. The disciples struggled to keep up. This time, though, they managed to stay awake. And their alertness was rewarded. Luke suggests to us, therefore, that they might have missed it. And, had they missed it, there would be no story to tell. This moment of Jesus' glory being revealed is shown to an audience--a group of three who can confirm this story later--much later, when things had fallen apart, when their master had been killed, and when rumors of his resurrection were spreading.
Fast-forward several chapters to Luke 22:39ff., and we find the disciples again struggling to stay awake. This time, Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, and his companions are unable to keep watch with him. Unfortunately for the preacher this week, Luke doesn't identify which disciples he took with him into the Garden--presumably, therefore, all of them. But Matthew picks up the link and tells us that "Peter and the two sons of Zebedee" went with him. Regardless, in the later episode, we watch as the disciples miss the opportunity to see what is revealed in the Garden. What might it have been? What might they had seen if they'd kept awake? What sort of glory was shown in that place? Or maybe, even though they slept, the days that followed showed them the whole story.
The fullest epiphany will come at Easter. That's when the world sees what that three disciples saw on the mountain top. Jesus is the Son of God, whose glory cannot be hidden. This week, though, we are invited to keep awake and see with Peter, James, and John the foreshadowing of the Easter epiphany. Like them, we may be weighed down with sleep. The sermon may be boring. The lesson may be overly familiar. We may have stayed up too late getting ready for our Super Bowl party. Or maybe, and more substantially, our faith has gone to sleep. Maybe we've lost the ability to stay alert to the ways God is working in our lives. This week, we are beckoned to pay attention. Something exciting is happening. Jesus will show us who he really is. If we miss it this week, we may have to wait until Easter to see it again.